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Sonnets December 4, 2007

Posted by Kim Crow in : Beard of Avon , add a comment

A sonnet is a fourteen-line poem, thought to have been invented by the poet Giacomo da Lentini (ca. 1200-1250). It is one of the most well known of all the verse forms in the Western world. The word sonnet is derived from the Italian word sonnetto, a little sound or song, which came from the Latin sonus, meaning “a sound.”

The sonnet form involves a certain way of thinking: the setting up or development of thought or idea which is brought to a conclusion at the end of the poem. Sticking to one subject in the sonnet and creating pauses at the ends or in the middles of lines make the poem resemble the way we think when we are thinking about a single idea.

The most common form of the sonnet is a fourteen-line poem in two parts: an octave (eight lines) and a sestet (six lines). The octave can be divided into two four-line stanzas and the sestet can be divided into one four-line stanza and a couplet (the two lines at the end). The chance to have two lines at the end, set off from the rest of the poem, often gives the poet a moment to conclude the poem’s thought in a momentous and satisfying way.

In terms of sound and rhyme, there are many different ways of writing a sonnet. Many traditional sonnets were written I in the meter of iambic pentameter. Traditional rhyme schemes for the sonnet vary a lot, the most famous being abab cdcd efef gg (Shakespeare). The rhymes and sound schemes of the sonnet are similar to those of the ballad and of popular songs, but the sonnet is not a narrative poem, and is usually more complex or condensed, and more contained within itself, since it is shorter and has no repetition of lines or refrain.

Though sonnets can be written about any subject, they seem very often to be written about love, philosophy, or both. This is because, as each poetic form reflects a human way of thinking, he sonnet form seems to reflect the way people think about ideas of love. Maybe that’s why there is the need for a conclusion—as if we could attempt, through poetry, to make sense of our feelings about love, or to say something final and sublime about a particular thought about love, even just for the moment… besides writing about love, you can write sonnets about things that happen when you’re walking down the  street or any thing or idea you want to describe (octave), and then, what you think of that (sestet).

Excerpts from The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms, edited by Ron Padgett.

From the above information, I would venture to guess that sonnets were much closer to a pop song than an email or text message.  Many speculate that code or autobiography was an implicit part of Shakespeare’s sonnets; some feel this is conjecture.