Sonnet at a glance : Poetry through the Ages

A page from the "Poetry through the Ages" exhibit...



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Originated by Giacomo de Lentino in the 13th century, the sonnet is the most universally known poetic form in the English language.

Although it was already well-practiced in Italy and England, the sonnet vaulted into the literary stratosphere when it became the vehicle of choice for William Shakespeare in his plays and poetic works. Perhaps Shakespeare was not the best sonnet writer, nor the most creative, but he was to poetry what Walt Disney was to animation. Shakespeare’s sonnets (154 of which have survived to this day) expanded opportunities for poets, academics, and students to bring poetry and drama more deeply into their lives.

Shakespeare's sonnets
Shakespeare’s sonnets expanded opportunities for poets, academics, and students to bring poetry and drama more deeply into their lives.
Rhyme: Varied, but the two most popular are ababcdcd-efefgg (Shakespearean) and abbaabba-cdcdcd (Miltonic)
Structure: Varied, but most popular is 14 lines, 10 syllables per line, in either two quatrains and two tercets; or three quatrains and a closing couplet
Measure/Beat: Iambic pentameter
Common Themes: Romantic, joys and perils of love
Other Notes:
  • At least 20 known varieties, but the most popular form is 14 lines, with 10 syllables per line
  • Stanzas can also be blended into one 14-line poem, as utilized by Shakespeare and Keats
  • Poem always moves forward toward conclusion and is based on a logical progression of ideas. The first 8 lines present a problem while the final 6 lines provide a resolution to the problem.
 

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