The Sonnet Should Sing
Judging by the number of hits the articles in the "Sonnet" section receives, the Sonnet and it's many shapes and sizes wins hands down as the most popular verse form in the Reference Forum. Ranging from the purists to the new age anything goes poets and most of us in between, if I make one point about the Sonnet it is: the Sonnet is a lyrical meditation. It should sing to its reader. Meter, rhyme, pivot, even length, all are secondary to the fluid melody that should ring in your reader's ears.
So we begin with the basics. This blog was set up to highlight some of the articles in the Reference Forum because many of the guests as well as the silent members come to this site to access the information in that forum. I am hoping that I might hear some of the poems that are being written by silent members and guests alike. You are all welcome to post poems or comments in the blog's reply thread.
The Sonnet, Italian sonnetto or Occitan sonet both meaning "little song" or "little sound" is a lyrical meditation. It is a verse form of which some variation can be found in almost all Western cultures and even a few Asian cultures. It often offers a conflict or question, and then works on a solution or answer, all within fourteen lines. (Well sometimes more, sometimes less, but these are exceptions to the rules.) There are two dominant sonnet forms, the Petrarchan or Italian Sonnet and the English or Shakespearean Sonnet. The other sonnet forms seem to be either variations of these or less known predecessors. There are even forms that call themselves sonnets but might not be true sonnets, usually because they try to tell a story or they lack a turn or pivot or an appropriate number of lines. But if it sings . . . .
The origin of the sonnet is said to have some uncertainty, though many believe it was born in the south of France or northern Italy created by the troubadours who sang for the courts. The earliest "true" sonnet is credited to Giacomo da Lentini of the Sicilian court of Frederick II (1197-1250). You can read a translation here at Sicilian Sonnet.
Sonnet 43 from Songs of the Portugese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints!---I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!---and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
All sonnets should include these elements:
- a lyrical meditation. The sonnet should sing.
- usually composed with themes of love, spirituality, nature, sorrow or celebration.
- a quatorzain , (a poem in 14 lines).
- metric. In English, the sonnet is primarily written in iambic pentameter.
- rhymed. The rhyme scheme is one of the features that identify the individual variations of the sonnet. (The Unrhymed and Blank sonnets by name deliberately lack rhyme which technically would be a nonce unrhymed scheme.) See the Sonnet Comparison Chart.
- written with question-answer or conflict-resolution structure.
- composed with a turn or change in tone. It is the positioning of this pivot or volta that is also a defining feature of the variable sonnets.
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