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April 9, 2016

English Sonnet: Definition and Examples

English Sonnet: Definition and Examples

A sonnet is fundamentally a dialectical construct, which allows the poet to examine the nature and ramifications of two usually contrasted ideas, emotions, states of mind, beliefs, action, events, images, etc. by juxtaposing the two against each other, and possibly resolving or just revealing the tensions created by and/or operate between the two (1).

History of the English Sonnet

The sonnet is thought to originate in Italy, and created by Giacomo Da Lentini.

The word "sonnet" derives from the Italian word "sonetto," which means a little sound or song.

The sonnet was introduced to England by Sir Thomas Wyatt in the early 16th century. He mostly translated the Italian sonnets of Petrarch. Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, developed the rhyme scheme of the English Sonnet; he was also a Petrarchan sonnet translator. The English sonnet form is sometimes referred to as the Shakespearean sonnet, not because he invented it, but because he is considered to be the most famous practitioner of the form.

Characteristics of the English Sonnet

Traditionally it is a poem of fourteen lines of iambic pentameter. It is one of the oldest verse forms found in English. The sonnet originated in Italy, and introduced to England in the early sixteenth century by Sir Thomas Wyatt. It is also known as the Shakespearean sonnet.

A sonnet usually revolves around the love for some woman; one exception being Shakespeare's sequence of 154 sonnets.

Structure of the English Sonnet

Quatrain #1 abab
Quatrain #2 cdcd
Quatrain #3 efef (usually introduces an unexpected dramatic thematic or imagery turn)
Turn (volta)
Couplet gg (In Shakespeare's sonnets the turn usually comes in the couplet, and usually summarizes the theme of the poem or introduces a fresh new look at the theme.)

Examples of English Sonnets

William Shakespeare's Sonnets


"sonnet". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. .

The Norton Anthology of Poetry. Shorter 5th edition. Ed. Margaret Ferguson. Norton: New York, 2005. 1266-8.

"The Sonnet." Poets.org. 1 Mar. 2016. 10 Apr. 2016. .

Wikipedia Contributors. "Sonnet." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Mar. 2016. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. .

(1) "Basic Sonnet Forms." Sonnet Central. 10 Apr. 2016. .