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American Sonnet, Byron's Sonnet, Frost's Sonnet, Percival's Sonnet, Shelley's Sonnet, Tennyson's Sonnet


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The Sonnet
Sonnet Comparison Chart

The Sonnet is probably one of the most popular verse forms written.   Several noted poets have tried their hand and offered a slightly skewed rhyme scheme or stanza arrangement to some of their sonnets resulting in someone emulating and naming the sonnet frame after the poet. Are they legitimate separate sonnet forms or are they simply variations of the Petrarchan or Shakespearean forms, who is to say?   Here are a few that you may run across.

The American Sonnet or Percival's Sonnet named for James Gates Percival's contributed sonnets with a loose metric rhythm consistent with American speech and a unique rhyme scheme.  Percival, (1795-1856), American Poet and Geologist spent many years assisting Noah Webster and contributing to the development of the American Dictionary of the English Language of 1828.

The elements of the  American Sonnet or Percival's Sonnet are:
  1. a quatorzain made up of a quatrain followed by 2 quintains
  2. metric, a loose pentameter.
  3. rhymed abba accca deeed
  4. pivot naturally sometime after the 9th line

    The Dreaming Soul by James Gates Percival

    O, there are moments when the dreaming soul
    Forgets the earth, and wanders far away
    Into some region of eternal day,
    Where the bright waves in calm and sunshine roll!
    Thither it wanders, and has reached a goal;-
    The good, the great, the beautiful, are there,
    And wreaths of victory crown their flowing hair;
    And as they move, such music fills the air
    As ne'er from fabled bower or cavern stole.
    Soft to the heart it winds, and hushes deep
    Its cares and sorrows. Thought then, fancy-free,
    Flies on from bliss to bliss, till, finding thee,
    It pauses, as the musk-rose charms the bee,
    Tranced as in happy dream of magic sleep.

Byron's Sonnet is a sonnet form named from George Gordon, Lord Byron's attempts at expanding the rhyme from 2 to 3 rhymes in the octave of the Italian or Petrarchan Sonnet. George Gordon (1788-1824) English "romance" poet ( a bit of a rake, known for his many affairs) and parliamentarian is probably best known for writing the narrative Don Juan and the shorter lyrical work She Walks In Beauty. 

The elements of Byron's Sonnet are: 

  1. a quatorzain made up of an octave followed by a sestet.
  2. metric, iambic pentameter.
  3. rhymed, rhyme scheme abba acca dedede
  4. pivot or volta between the octave and sestet.

    Sonnet to Chillon by George Gordon, 

    Eternal spirit of the chainless mind!
    Brightest in dungeons, Liberty! thou art,
    For there thy habitation is the heart,
    The heart which love of thee alone can bind;
    And when thy sons to fetters are consigned
    To fetters, and the damp vault's dayless gloom,
    Their country conquers with their martyrdom,
    And Freedom's fame finds wings on every wind.

    Chillon! thy prison is a holy place,
    And thy sad floor an altar, for 'twas trod,
    Until his very steps have left a trace
    Worn, as if thy cold pavement were a sod,
    By Bonnivard! - May none those marks efface!
    For they appeal from tyranny to God.

Channing's Sonnet is a slight adjustment to the structure of the Italian or Petrarchan Sonnet.   Instead of octave / sestet frame, the sestet is separated as two tercets. (and in reality is the how many view and write the sestet anyway) Modelled after some sonnets said to have been written by American Poet, Author, and Transcendentalist, William Ellery Channing (1818–1901).  I have to admit that I don't know of the title of his sonnets with this frame and I was unable to find an example.  Channing is probably better known for his biography of Henry Thoreau.  I don't think this is really enough of an adjustment to include here as a separate sonnet form but there are other sites that list it.  The elements are:

  1. framed with an octave followed by two tercets.  Space separates the three stanzas.
  2. metric, iambic pentameter,
  3. rhymed, rhyme scheme abbaabba cde cde  or abbaacca dee dff 
  4. pivot sometime after the octave

Frost's Sonnet couldn't be left off of this list even though it isn't a recognized sonnet frame and I am yet to find it listed elsewhere. Robert Frost, (1874 - 1063) American poet, often wrote in classic form but did create this unique frame for his famous poem The Oven Bird found in his second book North of Boston.  

The elements of Frost's Sonnet are:

  1. a quatorzain made up of a couplet, a sestet, a couplet and a quatrain in that order.
  2. metric, loose iambic pentameter
  3. rhymed, rhyme scheme aa bcbdcd ee fgfg
  4. pivot after the sestet.

    The Oven Bird by Robert Frost

    There is a singer everyone has heard.
    Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
    Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
    He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
    Mid-simmer is to spring as one to ten.
    He says the early petal-fall is past,
    When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
    On sunny days a moment overcast;
    And comes that other fall we name the fall.
    He says the highway dust is overall.
    The bird would cease and he as other birds
    but that he knows in singing not to sing.
    The question that he frames in all but words
    Is what to make of a diminished thing.

The Shelley Sonnet  follows the octave sestet frame but the rhyme is interlocked .   Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)  another of England's Romantic poets, is "regarded by some as among the finest lyric poets in the English language."  Wikipedia. 

The elements of the Shelley Sonnet are:

  1. a quatorzain made up of 2 quatrains followed by 2 tercets.
  2. metric, iambic pentameter
  3. rhymed, rhyme scheme  abab acdc ede fef   
  4. pivot after the octave

    Ozymandias  by Percy Bysshe Shelley

    I met a traveller from an antique land
    Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Tennyson's Sonnet  steps out of the 14 line standard adding a 15th line in an octave - septet frame.  It also repeats specific end words within the frame.  Alfred Lord Tennyson 1809 – 1892, the Victorian poet is among the most popular British poets of his time.

The elements of the Tennyson's Sonnet are:  

  1. framed with an octave followed by a septet (7 lines) not a sestet. 
  2. metric, iambic pentameter
  3. rhymed, rhyme scheme  a¹ba²cdccd  efea²ba¹fe   (the a rhyme is a repetition of end word only, not entire line)
  4. pivot after L10

    The Kraken by Alfred Lord Tennyson

    Below the thunders of the upper deep;                       
    Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,                               
    His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep                       
    The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights                         
    About his shadowy sides: above him swell               
    Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;             
    And far away into the sickly light,                                   
    From many a wondrous grot and secret cell                 
    Unnumbered and enormous polypi                                
    Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.           
    There hath he lain for ages and will lie                         
    Battening upon huge sea-worms in his sleep,             
    Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;                       
    Then once by man and angels to be seen,                 
    In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.          


~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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