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SONNETS: DEFINITION, STRUCTURE, EXAMPLES AND NOTES

Today’s we’ll be discussing a classic form, an intricate formal poetic-dance with precise rhythm and fixed step — sonnets.

The sonnet is basically a 14 line poem with a definite meter and precise rhyme scheme.

Originally, the form was written with the theme of love, with a distinct shift in either the last two or six verse stanza.

Personally, I call Sonnets musical poetry because of its regular meter which lends it the same attribute of a song written for the ears.

With time the sonnet form has changed and even now includes a bizarre looking one-word-per-line form called one word sonnets.

SONNET STRUCTURE:

  1. Shakespearean: Shakespearean sonnet, commonly called the English sonnet, has 14 lines. The first twelve lines are divided into three quatrains with four lines each. In the three quatrains the poet establishes a theme or problem and then resolves it in the final two lines, called the couplet. The rhyme scheme of the quatrains is A-B-A-B C-D-C-D E-F-E-F. The couplet has the rhyme schem E-G-G.
  2. Italian/Petrarchan: This sonnet also has 14 lines but it is broken only into two parts/stanzas —a rhyming octave (8-lines) as A-B-B-A-A-B-B-A and a rhyming sestet (6-lines) as C-D-C-D-C-D.

SONNET SAMPLES

MEMORIAM PERIRE (by Albert K. Jungers)

My deep regards, farewell dear Anglia
Ensuring there is no speech that is quite as drab
Meaningful verses expounded, ready to grab
Obscure texts, brooks explaining inter alia.
Revealing books, arcane paraphernalia
Inquisitors file furtively into the lab
A brain and sonnet exposed now upon a slab
My poetry like my messy neural glia.

Pondering iambic verse against trochaic
Enduring prosaic parts (these as provided)
Rendering anaemic verse, at points poetic.
Incurring challenges my thesis decided
Remembering Alexandria archaic
Endearingly given, as this is divided.

SOLEASI NEL MIO COR (by Francesco Petrarch)

She ruled in beauty o’er this heart of mine,
A noble lady in a humble home,
And now her time for heavenly bliss has come,
‘Tis I am mortal proved, and she divine.

The soul that all its blessings must resign,
And love whose light no more on earth finds room,
Might rend the rocks with pity for their doom,
Yet none their sorrows can in words enshrine;

They weep within my heart; and ears are deaf
Save mine alone, and I am crushed with care,
And naught remains to me save mournful breath.

Assuredly but dust and shade we are,
Assuredly desire is blind and brief,
Assuredly its hope but ends in death.
(Translated by Thomas Wentworth Higginson)

PASSING IN THE NIGHT (by Albert K. Jungers)

Call it not love, though others style it so,
I’ll not be party to such a charade.
This use that you make as you surely know,
It passes for naught, and nothing is made.

Eases your tension, abuses another,
Wellspring of passion, fuss and a bother.
Love is taking a hand willingly given,
To hold and cherish in storms hard-driven.

Warmth in the cold, comfort at night,
Companion when old, seeking the right.
Giving life to a child to nurture and nourish,
Gentle and mild with courage to flourish.

Call it not love, this thing that you do
Unless you can prove by daylight it’s true!

SONNET 116 (by William Shakespeare)

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

NOTES ON SHAKESPEARE’S SONNETS
Shakespeare’s sonnets are written predominantly in a meter called iambic pentameter, a rhyme scheme in which each sonnet line consists of ten syllables.

The syllables are divided into five pairs called iambs or iambic feet. An iamb is a metrical unit made up of one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable.

An example of an iamb would be good BYE.

A line of iambic pentameter flows like this:
baBOOM / baBOOM / baBOOM / baBOOM / baBOOM.

Here are some examples from Shakespeare’s sonnets:

When I / do COUNT / the CLOCK / that TELLS / the TIME (Sonnet 12
When IN / dis GRACE / with FOR / tune AND / men’s EYESI ALL / a LONE / be WEEP / my OUT/ cast STATE (Sonnet 29)
Shall I / com PARE/ thee TO / a SUM / mer’s DAY? Thou ART / more LOVE / ly AND / more TEM / per ATE (Sonnet 18)

Shakespeare’s plays are also written primarily in iambic pentameter, but the lines are unrhymed and not grouped into stanzas.

Unrhymed iambic pentameter is called blank verse.

It should be noted that there are also many prose passages in Shakespeareís plays and some lines of trochaic tetrameter, such as the Witches’ speeches in Macbeth.

FURTHER NOTES FROM by Albert K. Jungers:
Quite obviously, I’ve broken some rules, but so did Shakespeare. For one thing, his love poems were written to young men. For another, he established a new pattern.

My first sonnet is a double acrostic, Petrarchan Alexandrine sonnet. My second is an English sonnet, with a different style and rhyme scheme. The Alexandrine is a slightly different rhythm based on a pattern of 4 and 6 stresses.

Your challenge is to write a sonnet, but if you break the rules, know why and where.

Now, start practicing. It’s just a matter of 14 lines….write your own sonnet and submit in the comment section below.

Author: Kukogho Iruesiri Samson

KIS, author of two poetry collections, ‘WHAT CAN WORDS DO?’ and ‘I SAID THESE WORDS’, is an award-winning Nigerian writer, photographer, and media professional with experience in journalism, PR, publishing and media management. In 2016, he was listed in Nigerian Writers Awards’ list of 100 MOST INFLUENTIAL NIGERIAN WRITERS UNDER 40. The same year 2016, he won the Nigerian Writer’s Award for ‘Best Poet In Nigeria 2015.’ he had also won the Orange Crush 1st Prize for Poetry in 2012.
He is the CEO of Words Rhymes & Rhythm LTD.

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