A sonnet is a type of poem that has a specific form. The sonnet’s purpose is usually to praise something or someone or to specify the love of the poet. There are two basic kinds of sonnets: the Petrarchan and the Shakespearean sonnet.
The Petrarchan or Italian sonnet is a poem of fourteen lines, following a strict rhyme scheme and logical structure.
The sonnet structure divides the fourteen lines into an octave [eight lines] and a sestet [six lines].
The rhyme scheme for the octave is ABBA ABBA, and the sestet follows the pattern of CDE CDE.
The octave presents and discusses the theme of the sonnet; the sestet finishes the discussion and completes the theme.
The Shakespearean or English sonnet also has fourteen lines and follows a rhyme scheme.
This sonnet is broken into three quatrains [four lines] and a rhyming couplet [two lines].
The rhyme scheme is ABAB/CDCD/EFEF/GG.
Most sonnets are written in iambic pentameter which is a poetic meter that alternates unstressed and stressed syllables.
First quatrain: Discusses the subject of the sonnet.
Second quatrain: Develops the sonnet’s theme.
Third quatrain: Gives more to the theme.
Fourth quatrain: Provides the concluding thought.
Rhyming couplet: Reminds the reader of the purpose of the sonnet.
The sonnet is usually serious and thoughtful.
One of the best known sonnets is Sonnet 18 by Shakespeare. He has a great love for a young man and wrote over a hundred sonnets to him. This sonnet’s beauty comes from the comparison on of the young man to a wondrous summer day.
Shakespeare believed that as long as the lines of his poetry lived than the young man would achieve immortality. The tone of the poem is upbeat and adoring while the young man is compared to a summer day. To Shakespeare, the wonderful summer day falls short to the excellence of the man. The summer day is lacking in many ways. However, the young man is perfection.
The summer day –
- Too hot,
- Too rough
- Too dirty
The young man-
He is the darling of May.
And remember that as long as Shakespeare’s lines are read [like today] the young man will live on. Here we are reading and discussing Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18; consequently, the young man has lived on for over four hundred years.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this [the poem], and this [the poem] gives life to thee [the young man].
As long as men live and breathe see or hear on the earth, you will live forever. The summer day cannot compare to the exquisite that Shakespeare so admires. Obviously, everyone loves the freedom of a summer day that has many possibilities. What a wonderful tribute!
Sonnets are no longer used by poets. Although if one wants to read a beautiful love poem, look for a sonnet.