The sonnet began as a "little song" with no defined structure (indeed, the free form sonnet's only prerequisite is that it be composed of fourteen lines). Today the sonnet is a poem that consists of fourteen lines and is often written in iambic pentameter (although some poets have been known to write sonnets in iambic hexameter). There exists many variations of the sonnet, but all of the following vary only in rhyme scheme (if there is one):

Primarily used for the purposes of love, the sonnet originated in Italy where Petrarch, the first person known to use the sonnet in structured form and after whom the Petrarchan Sonnet is named, lived. Edmund Spenser, the "Poet's Poet", adapted the Petrarchan Sonnet, giving it a new rhyme scheme and bringing the sonnet into English. The new sonnet was dubbed the Spenserian Sonnet, after its creator. Further revisions were made by William Shakespheare, changing the rhyme scheme again to make the sonnet easier to write.

Edwin Arlington Robinson

Oh for a poet -- for a beacon bright
To rift this changeless glimmer of dead gray;
To spirit back the Muses, long astray,
And flush Parnassus with a newer light;
To put these little sonnet-men to flight
Who fashion, in a shrewd, mechanic way,
Songs without souls, that flicker for a day,
To vanish in irrevocable night.

What does it mean, this barren age of ours?
Here are the men, the women, and the flowers,
The seasons, and the sunset, as before.
What does it mean? Shall not one bard arise
To wrench one banner from the western skies,
And mark it with his name forevermore?

Edwin Arlington Robinson

The master and the slave go hand in hand,
Though touch be lost. The poet is a slave,
And there be kings do sorrowfully crave
The joyance that a scullion may command.
But, ah, the sonnet-slave must understand
The mission of his bondage, or the grave
May clasp his bones, or ever he shall save
The perfect word that is the poet's wand!

The sonnet is a crown, whereof the rhymes
Are for Thought's purest gold the jewel-stones;
But shapes and echoes that are never done
Will haunt the workshop, as regret sometimes
Will bring with human yearning to sad thrones
The crash of battles that are never won.

Edwin Arlington Robinson

When we can all so excellently give
The measure of love's wisdom with a blow, --
Why can we not in turn receive it so,
And end this murmur for the life we live?
And when we do so frantically strive
To win strange faith, why do we shun to know
That in love's elemental over-glow
God's wholeness gleams with light superlative?

Oh, brother men, if you have eyes at all,
Look at a branch, a bird, a child, a rose, --
Or anything God ever made that grows, --
Nor let the smallest vision of it slip,
Till you can read, as on Belshazzar's wall,
The glory of eternal partnership!

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A sonnet is also a type of 14-line, rhyming poem. College poetry professors like to assign them to students. Shakespeare was quite good at them; most freshmen are not.

I tried quite hard to write a sonnet.
Alas, the form's unnatural to me.
The first I wrote got mustard on it
so I couldn't turn it in, you see.

The second I wrote about my mother's spouse,
a lovely man who's got a worrisome disease
his hospitalizations leave her an empty house
and writing about it depresses me, you see.

In despair, I wrote about my cat
in doggerel'd verse and flat-busted meter.
Seriously, who'd want to read that?
It broke on the page like a rusted-out beater.

The last I wrote turned twittishly twee
So I couldn't turn it in, you see.

Son"net (?), n. [F., fr. It. sonetto, fr. suono a sound, a song, fr. L. sonus a sound. See Sound noise.]


A short poem, -- usually amatory.



He had a wonderful desire to chant a sonnet or hymn unto Apollo Pythius. Holland.


A poem of fourteen lines, -- two stanzas, called the octave, being of four verses each, and two stanzas, called the sestet, of three verses each, the rhymes being adjusted by a particular rule.

In the proper sonnet each line has five accents, and the octave has but two rhymes, the second, third, sixth, and seventh lines being of one rhyme, and the first, fourth, fifth, and eighth being of another. In the sestet there are sometimes two and sometimes three rhymes; but in some way its two stazas rhyme together. Often the three lines of the first stanza rhyme severally with the three lines of the second. In Shakespeare's sonnets, the first twelve lines rhymed alternately, and the last two rhyme together.


© Webster 1913.

Son"net, v. i.

To compose sonnets.

"Strains that come almost to sonneting."



© Webster 1913.

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