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An Introduction to Sonnets

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1 An Introduction to Sonnets

2 What is a sonnet? Sonnets are poems that meet the following rules:
All sonnets are 14 lines long. Sonnets in English are written in iambic pentameter, which means that each line has 10 syllables, alternating in an unstressed/stressed pattern. Sonnets follow a predetermined rhyme scheme; the rhyme pattern determines if the sonnet is Petrarchan (Italian), Shakespearean, or Spenserian. All sonnets are characterized by a “turn” located at a designated point in the sonnet.

3 History of the Sonnet The sonnet began in Italy, where the poet Francesco Petrarch first established it as a serious form of poetry. Petrarch wrote a large collection of sonnets addressed to a young woman named Laura he saw one afternoon at church. She was not interested, but he didn’t let that stop him, and proceeded to publish some 260 sonnets about her—followed by another hundred or so after her death. Petrarch is, quite possibly, the first recorded literary stalker. In these sonnets, Petrarch used witty plays on Laura’s name (l’oro=the golden one or the golden; references to laurel trees, etc.) to both honor and attack the object of his affection. He would praise her for her beauty in one sonnet, then condemn her as an icy monster who rejects his love in another. Laura was completely unable to respond to these poems, as women did not write, and her public persona was thus basically Petrarch’s to define.

4 Sonnets The great majority of 16th-century sonnets were written to explore unrequited romantic love. It was assumed that the speaker would be a besotted man and the beloved a resistant, disdainful, or otherwise unavailable woman. The speaker spends much of his time trying to persuade the beloved to sleep with him. Petrarch developed a number of conventions for describing love’s varied pleasures and torments and the beauty of the beloved. Sonnets abound in wordplay: puns, double-entendres, multiple meanings, and clever figures of speech.

5 The two major sonnet forms:
Petrarchan (Italian) A B A Octave (8 lines) A The TURN C D E C Sestet (6 lines) Shakespearean A B C D C 3 quatrains E F The TURN F G Rhyming G Couplet

6 The Turn of the Sonnet A sonnet’s turn is the point in the sonnet where the poet changes perspective or alters his/her approach to description. This often results in a sonnet following a “position-contrasting position” type of structure, or occasionally a “change of heart” in the poet at the end of the verse. Look at this sonnet as an example: Notice that the poem’s turn is a change from discussing what Sleep itself is to what the poet will offer Sleep as tribute if Sleep comes to him. “Come Sleep, O Sleep!” Come, Sleep! O Sleep, the certain knot of peace, The baiting-place of wit, the balm of woe, The poor man's wealth, the prisoner's release, Th' indifferent judge between the high and low; With shield of proof shield me from out the press Of those fierce darts Despair at me doth throw! O make in me those civil wars to cease! - I will good tribute pay if thou do so. Take thou of me smooth pillows, sweetest bed, A chamber deaf of noise and blind of light, A rosy garland, and a weary head; And if these things, as being thine in right, Move not thy heavy grace, thou shalt in me, Livelier than elsewhere, Stella's image see.

7 Nothing is ever easy. Sonnet 29 When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries And look upon myself and curse my fate, Wishing me like to one more rich in hope, Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd, Desiring this man's art and that man's scope, With what I most enjoy contented least; Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising, Haply I think on thee, and then my state, Like to the lark at break of day arising From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate; For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings That then I scorn to change my state with kings. Note that at times the turn does NOT occur in the traditional spot. Instead of occurring at the normal line in this sonnet by Shakespeare, the turn instead occurs between lines 8-9—where you’d normally find the turn for an Italian sonnet.

8 FIGURES OF SPEECH BLAZON A blazon (blah-zohn) catalogues the features or traits of its subject, usually a woman, and describes them using hyperbole, metaphor, or simile "her lips are like rubies; her eyes are stars." This was a very heavily-used Petrarchan convention. Personification is the attribution of human qualities on an idea, an inanimate object, or an animal. Renaissance personifications give life to such concepts as Time, Love, Grief, Truth, Nature, Lust, etc. Love is often given the name of Venus (the Roman goddess of love) and Cupid (her son, also known as the "blind boy" and similar descriptions). These figures are frequently treated as full-fledged characters. PERSONIFICATION

9 What tongue can her perfections tell,
In whose each part all pens may dwell? Her hair fine threads of finest gold, In curled knots man’s thought to hold: But that her forehead says, “In me A whiter beauty you may see”; Whiter indeed, more white than snow, Which on cold winter’s face doth grow. That doth present those even brows Whose equal line their angles bows, Like to the moon when after change Her horned head abroad doth range; And arches be to heavenly lids, Whose wink each bold attempt forbids. For the black stars those spheres contain, The matchless pair, even praise doth stain. Sir Philip Sidney Petrarch refined the type of sonnet known as the blazon. A typical example of a blazon is Sir Philip Sidney’s verse: Note how Sidney lists off the elements of the woman’s face—hair, forehead, eyebrows, eyelids, and finally, eyes. This is the source of the “your eyes are like deep pools I could dive into, etc.” school of poetry, which, while occasionally flattering, should be noted as being problematic as well, as it reduces the subject to nothing more than a collection of good-looking body parts. This objectification of the subject, usually a woman, has in turn contributed to the impossible standards of beauty for women today, as well as the problem of seeing women only as objects of sexual desire.

10 Giuseppi Archimboldo’s Summer
Some poets would go on to play with this idea and take it to a ridiculous extreme, while others used it as source for satire: My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral is far more red than her lips' red; If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head. I have seen roses damasked, red and white, But no such roses see I in her cheeks; And in some perfumes is there more delight Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks. I love to hear her speak, yet well I know That music hath a far more pleasing sound; I grant I never saw a goddess go; My mistress when she walks treads on the ground. And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare As any she belied with false compare. William Shakespeare, Sonnet CXXX Giuseppi Archimboldo’s Summer

A conceit is an elaborate and surprising comparison between two apparently dissimilar things. The comparisons within a conceit were either impressively original or involved the use of familiar images for remarkably unusual purposes. Thus conceits were a way for poets to show off and to flex their creative muscles. A conceit, of course, is a metaphor (or a simile). The conceit is important in communicating the central meaning intended by the poet. It is also important to note that this kind of figurative language adds beauty to the style of the sonnets.

12 Common CONCEITS in Sonnets
1. Love as a battle, lover as "foe" 2. Love as deadly (disease, wound) 3. Love as torment 4. Love as bondage 5. Love as a hunt 6. Love/Beloved as ruler/master 7. The power of the Beloved's gaze (as ray, beam, etc.) 8. The beauty of the Beloved's person (like flowers, jewels, etc.) 9. The name of the Beloved/Poet (puns, wordplay, etc.) 10. Apostrophe (address to inanimate object, dead person, etc.) 11. The Beloved as a Star/Sun 12. The Virtue of the Beloved

13 Sonnet Analyze this! All we need is fourteen lines, well, thirteen now, and after this one just a dozen to launch a little ship on love's storm-tossed seas, then only ten more left like rows of beans. How easily it goes unless you get Elizabethan and insist the iambic bongos must be played and rhymes positioned at the ends of lines, one for every station of the cross. But hang on here while we make the turn into the final six where all will be resolved, where longing and heartache will find an end, where Laura will tell Petrarch to put down his pen, take off those crazy medieval tights, blow out the lights, and come at last to bed. Billy Collins

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