Sonnet

Originally an Italian Form

There are three main versions of this still-popular form. All except some minor variations have fourteen lines, and in the English language these are nearly always iambic pentameters. The Shakespearian sonnet is probably the best known in the UK. It consists of three quatrains and a final couplet, and the rhyme scheme used is ababcdcdefefgg. The sonnet that very many people know at least the opening of is:

                   Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
                   Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
                   Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
                   And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
                   Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
                   And often is his gold complexion dimmed:
                   And every fair from fair sometimes declines,
                   By chance, or nature's changing course untrimm'd,
                   But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
                   Nor lose possession of that fair that thou ow'st,
                   Nor shall death brag thou wandr'st in his shade,
                   When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st.
                          So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
                          So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

The Italianate or Petrarchian sonnet is made up by an octave or two quatrains rhyming abbaabba and sestet normally rhyming cdecde or cdcdcd. There is normally a change in the mood or sense of the poem between the octave and sestet. The sonnet was originally the form for love poetry par excellence, but latterly has been used for a variety of subjects. This is one such Italianate sonnet by me, called Lenin's Tomb. It will very probably be the only chance I get to feature a poem in between Shakespeare and Spenser so I'm going for it:

                   Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov
                   Still with your beard showing stiff and red
                   Though for all of these years you have lain dead.
                   The great crowds come to gaze, but not in love.
                   And these fine people, what do they think of
                   Now that your words are no longer sacred,
                   And you have lost your Godhead?
                   So if not worship, are they here to scoff?

                           Dare they forget that your words needed saying,
                           As one day they may need saying again?
                           Now to the heart of this simple monody,
                           A thing there is no gainsaying:
                           The cause was lost on the sad day when
                           They embalmed the word along with the body.

Previously published in Porto Franco (Romania) and Red Poets 11.

The Spenserian sonnet uses the rhyme scheme ababbcbccdcdee, as in this example (his sonnet number seventy-five):

                   One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
                   But came the waves and washed it away:
                   Again I wrote it with a second hand,
                   But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
                   Vain man, said she, that doest in vain assay
                   A mortal thing so to immortalise,
                   For I myself shall like to this decay,
                   And eek my name be wiped out likewise.
                   Not so (quoth I), let baser things devise
                   To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:
                   My verse your virtues rare shall eternise,
                   And in the heavens write your glorious name.
                   Where whenas Death shall all the world subdue,
                   Our love shall live, and later life renew.

There are other varieties of the sonnet, like the Miltonic sonnet that uses the rhyme scheme abbaacca in the octave; 12- and 16-line sonnets; and linked groups of sonnets ('crowns' of sonnets) which use a common line. One of the lesser-known fourteen-line versions is the Pushkin Sonnet, also known as the Onegin Sonnet. This is written in eight-syllable iambic tetrameters using the rhyme scheme AbAbCCddEffEgg. Upper case letters here represent feminine rhymes and lower case the more usually seen rhymes with masculine line endings. The Onegin stanza was devised by Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin for his poetic novel, Eugene Onegin (pronounced oh-knee-gin [hard g]), a novel in verse. The work is more widely known in its operatic form with music by Tchaikovsky. This example below, entitled Sri Lankan Dilemma, is by Jim Bartlett. Jim also provided the other material on the Pushkin or Onegin Sonnet.
                   I'd better paint a bleaker picture,
                   Tell no more tales of paradise;
                   I'll tell of the financial stricture,
                   Recount a tale of fiscal vice.
                   This the isle of the backhander,
                   And politicians who'd be grander,
                   Policemen ready for a bribe
                   And other graft I could describe
                   But will not, for I like this island,
                   These happy people wreathed in smiles
                   Who welcome one who's travelled miles.
                   Their standards differ much from my land.
                   While, here I must accept their ways
                   And just enjoy these holidays.


A Note on Formal and Free Verse
Literary Terms
Metre
Triolet
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