The Sonnet

The Sonnet is the lyric in fourteen lines in iambic pentameter governed by certain prescribed rules in general and in the arrangement of The rhymes. It aims at concentrated expression, but a fairly complex development of a single theme also is possible.

Origin of sonnet:

It derives its name from the Italian “sonnetto”which means “A little song” or sound sung to the strain of music. It has only one leading thought or emotion as in Milton’s ‘On his blindness’ or Keats’s ‘On first looking into chapman’s Homer’.

Sonnets were first written in Italy in the latter half of the thirteenth century. The form of composition is associated with the name of petrarch, through the form had been used even by Dante before him.

Composition of the sonnets:

A petrarchan sonnet is composed of two parts, the octave compressing the first eight lines and the sestet compressing the last six lines. The octave two has rhymes ‘a’ and ‘b’ are arranged in the a b a b a b a b scheme. The sestet has three rhymes arranged in various forms as cde, cde or cde, dcd or cde, dce. The octave may be divided into two stanzas of four lines each called quatrains and sestet into two of three lines is called the tercets. At the end of the eight lines, there is a pause called caesura followed by a turn of thought called volta. Milton wrote some of his sonnets in this manner.

Some of the earliest writers of sonnet:

The sonnet was introduced in England by wyatt and Surrey in the 16th century. They discarded the Italian form and adapted a new rhyme sheme. Surrey wrote his sonnets in three quatrains in alternate rhymes followed by a concluding couplet.- a b a b, c d c d, e f e f, g g . This form was later used by Shakespeare with the marvelous success in his series of sonnet dedicated to Mr WH. so it came to be known as the shakespearean sonnet. romantic poets like Wordsworth and keat’s followed the shakespearean pattern. Spenser adopted a slightly altered form of the shakespearean sonnet. He used an intermixture of rhyme to connect each of the quatrains making it a b a b, b c b c, c d c d, e e.

The theme of the sonnets:

The common theme of a sonnet is love as the sonnets of Shakespeare, Philip Sidney and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. However several poets have used other themes also in their sonnets. Milton’s sonnet ‘On his blindness’, wordsworth’s sonnet addressed to Milton, Keats’s sonnet ‘On first looking into chapman’s Homer’ and Arnold’s Sonnet on Shakespeare are examples.

Some of the famous sonnets are:

  • Sir Thomas Wyatt, ‘Whoso List to Hunt’.
  • Sir Philip Sidney, Sonnet 1 from Astrophil and Stella.
  • William Shakespeare, Sonnet 29.
  • John Donne, ‘Death, Be Not Proud’.
  • William Wordsworth, ‘Composed upon Westminster Bridge’.
  • John Keats, ‘On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer’.


Sonnet is one of the literary forms that used in majorly writing poems. It will contain fourteen lines and has a lot of poetical devices like, metaphor, allitration, personalification etc.

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