Explore aspects of the sonnet tradition through reference to a range
of material you have studied
The word ‘sonnet’ comes from the Italian word ‘sonnetto’ meaning
little sound or song. A sonnet is a special type of poem. The sonnet
is always 14 lines long and usually expresses the poets’ personal
feelings or thoughts; most often connected with love or death, which
are two of the most basic aspects of human existence. The poem
generally uses rhyme and metre to organise the poet’s ideas in a
formal way. There are several different types of sonnets which all
accomplish this in a slightly different style.
The Italian or Petrarchan sonnet was originally developed around 1350
by Petrarch, an Italian poet (1304-1374).
Petrarch had fallen madly in love with a woman named Laura, but she
was a married woman and refused to become his mistress. Petrarch wrote
poetry expressing the idea of courtly love and conveying his own
misery and his slavery to the love of Laura; a love denied. His verses
contain accusations about the fickleness of love, the timeless quality
of art and the hopelessness and devotion of eternal love.
The Italian sonnet is divided into two sections by two different
groups of rhyming sounds. The first eight lines are called the octave.
This has two four line units that rhyme in the same way. A b b a, a b
The remaining six lines are called the sestet and can have either two
or three rhyming sounds arranged in a variety of ways: cdcdcd, cddcdc,
cdecde, cdeced, or cdcedc.
The poem is clearly divided into two sections by the two differing
rhyme groups. The change from one rhyme group to another signifies a
change in subject matter. It can also be said that the octet prese...
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... years of
pain’ the word ‘long’ is again repeated to emphasize the time he has
been away and the suffering he has experienced as a Black in a ‘White’
world. The tightness, compression and discipline of the sonnet form
does not disguise but rather emphasises his love for Jamaica and his
suffering since he left.
In conclusion therefore, the sonnet has developed from its traditional
form albeit still retaining some of the aspects Petrarch may have once
used centuries beforehand such as an octave/sestet structure. It was
originally a formal love ‘song’ with high ideals and a rigid format.
Shakespeare transformed it and made the sonnet more accessible and fun
for the common man to enjoy. The sonnet has since evolved further and
can be used in a wide variety of forms and for an even wider range of
subject matter and can be easily read by audiences world-wide.
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