What is a sonnet?

What Does Sonnet Mean

We explain what a sonnet is and a list of various European sonnets. Also, some examples of this poetic composition.

The sonnet was extremely common in Europe in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries.

What is a sonnet?

A sonnet is known as an extremely frequent poetic composition in 13th, 14th and 15th century Europe , consisting of 14 verses of major art (usually hendecasyllables), organized into four fixed stanzas : two quartets (4 verses each) ) and two triplets (three verses each).

The theme of the sonnets could be loving, mystical or of any other nature , and it was generally distributed as follows: the first stanza raised the theme, the second developed it, the first triplet reflects on what was said or raises a feeling about it, and the last one ended with a deep feeling, detached from the above. Thus, there was an introduction , development and conclusion in the poem . The sonnet is originally from Sicily, Italy , from where it passed to the rest of the country and was cultivated by the Dolce stil nuovo poets , such as Guido Guinizzelli (1240-1276) and Guido Cavalcanti (1259-1300), who transmitted it to Dante Alighieri and above all to Petrarca (both from the 15th century), the great Latin poet who popularized the sonnet in the European world as the ideal poetic form for love. Other great European sonnets were:

  • In Spanish language. Garcilaso de la Vega, Juan Boscán, the poets of the Spanish Golden Age such as Lope de Vega, Luis de Góngora, Francisco de Quevedo, Pedro Calderón de la Barca and Miguel de Cervantes. It was also cultivated in America by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and, much later, in the 19th century, by Latin American modernists such as Rubén Darío, the Spanish Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer and Manuel Machado, and later in the 20th century by members of the generation of 27: Federico García Lorca, Jorge Guillén, Rafael Alberti.
  • In French language. The great French sonnetist was Clément Marot (1496-1544), who influenced later Pierre de Ronsard and Joachim du Bellay, as the period of splendor of the sonnet in France took place in the seventeenth century. It disappeared in the following century, but in the 19th century it reappeared with Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine and Stéphane Mallarmé.
  • In English language. The sonnet was introduced in England in the 16th century, by the hand of Thomas Wyatt, Petrarch's translator and author of some 30 of his own sonnets. This genre would change over time until the "English sonnet" or "Elizabethan sonnet" was reached with William Shakespeare. It was also cultivated by John Milton, William Wordsworth and Thomas Hardy. In the United States, by Longfellow, GH Broker and EA Robinson, among others.
  • The Portuguese language. Foundational poets such as Luís de Camões or Antero de Quental cultivated the sonnet, after Sá de Miranda introduced it after a trip to Italy in the 16th century.
  • In German language. The sonnet comes to German thanks to Ernst Schwabe and Georg Rudolf Wekherlin, using Alexandrians instead of hendecasyllables. Other cultists of the sonnet were Stefan Gerge, Hugo von Hofmannstahl and Rainer María Rilke.

It can serve you: Modernism

Sonnet examples

  • "Defining love", by Francisco de Quevedo

It is scorching ice, it is frozen fire, it is hurt, it hurts and cannot be felt, it is a good dream, a bad present, it is a very tired short rest. It is an oversight, that gives us care, a coward, with a brave name, a lonely walk among people, a love only to be loved.

It is an imprisoned freedom that lasts until the last paroxysm, a disease that grows if it is cured. This is the Love child, this is your abyss: look at what friendship he will have with nothing, the one who is contrary to himself in everything.

  • "Sad sighs, tired tears", by Luis de Góngora

Sad sighs, tired tears, thrown by the heart, the eyes rain, the trunks bathe and the branches move from these plants to consecrated Alcides; but from the wind the forces conjured up the sighs untie and stir, and the trunks the tears are drunk, badly they and worse they shed. Even in my tender face that tribute that my eyes give, invisible hand of shadow or air leaves me lean, because that fiercely human angel does not create my pain, and thus it is my fruit to cry without reward and sigh in vain.

  • "Sonnet to Laura", by Petrarca

Peace I cannot find nor can I wage war, and I burn and I am ice; and I fear and all postponement; and I fly over the sky and lie on the ground; and nothing squeezed and everyone hugged. Whoever keeps me in prison, neither opens nor closes, neither holds me nor looses the noose; And Love does not kill me, nor does it unravel me, nor does it love me, nor does it take away my pregnancy. I see without eyes and without tongue I cry; and ask for help and look longing; I love others and I feel hated for myself. Crying I scream and the pain transit; death and life give me equal wakefulness; For you I am, Lady, in this state.

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