What is a sonnet?
It is one of the most important and well known poetic compositions of literature, mainly highlighted by its structure and rhyme, which has allowed it to incorporate a great variety of themes with the passage of time and the main exponents of literature that begin to develop the sonnet properly.
Unlike other sub-genres of lyric and universal literature, the sonnet is one of those that allows greater freedom of composition in relation to the theme or content that will have, since it has several options for it. Thus, the poet can choose from writing about love, to talking about the cruelty of war, obstacles, nature, death, the passage of time, among others.
Meaning of the sonnet
The term -sonnet- comes from the Italian sonetto, derived in turn from the Latin sonus, which refers to sound. Thus, soon with the term sonnet the classical verses began to be taken as an art that maintains a certain structure linking the musical art, based on a poetic structure formed with fourteen hendecasyllabic verses and with a consonant rhyme in two quatrains with rhyme and rhymed tercets with rhyme.
The sonnet is a type of poetic composition consisting of a fourteen-line structure, often maintaining a consonant rhyme distributed in two quatrains and two tercets. The sonnet must maintain a thematic unity that is developed in its traditional structure and whose denouement will be presented during the tercets. However, it is important to keep in mind that this distribution is not strict.
Origin of the sonnet
It is considered that the sonnet appears in southern Italy around the 13th century, cultivated mainly by Giacomo da Lentini, a well known poet who was part of the Sicilian School, of whom we have very little information. However, it is known that the structure of the sonnet was established during the Renaissance period by authors from Italy, among whom Petrarch and Dante stand out. From this moment on it becomes one of the most used poetic compositions and one of the most important of the lyrical genre.
Sicily would be the place of origin of the sonnet with a strong expansion throughout the Italian peninsula. The poet Giacomo da Lentini was then one of the most important poets, recognized also for being a notary born at the beginning of the 13th century and creator of 22 sonnets. The creation of the new poetic structure of the sonnet spread in southern Italy and later to other central regions of the region.
Later, Guittone d’Arezzo introduces one of the variants of the sonnet in the quatrain using an ABBA rhyme, from which about 250 sonnets will be derived, also reaching the poet Guido Guinizelli. With the passage of time the sonnet will continue its development having contact with other generations in which will pass authors such as Guido Cavalcanti, Lapo Gianini, Cino da Pistoia, among others.
Characteristics of the sonnet
To go even deeper into the sonnet as one of the most important subgenres of literary genres, let us identify the following characteristics:
Theme of the sonnet
It is important to keep in mind that the themes and contents of the sonnets can be very varied, however, in principle they were directed to themes such as love, but also handled content of a mystical nature and even any other content of a different nature.
Form of composition
It is important to note that, although it is not a rule of sonnet composition, this is often organized or takes as a reference the composition structure of the narrative genre, applying a beginning, a knot and a denouement for the end of the work. Thus, during the first quatrain of the sonnet, the theme that will be developed during the second and so on until the end is presented.
Although it does not happen in all cases, the poet at the end of the literary composition of the sonnet, it is possible that he adds a closing thought and even a reflection on the course of events or the knot of his own sonnet.
Structure of the sonnet
The composition of the sonnet has been characterized by maintaining an established structure for its writing, which works as follows:
The verses of the sonnet are frequently of major art and in hendecasyllables, that is to say, they are composed of eleven syllables in total.
As for the stanzas, the sonnet usually accumulates a total of four stanzas, where the first two will be quatrains and the last two will be tercets.
Rhyme is applied to the whole sonnet. In the case of stanzas composed in quatrains, it will work as follows: ABBA ABBA, it harmonizes and connects the first line with the fourth, while the same thing happens but this time with the second and the third. However, in the case of tercet stanzas, the rhyme can have a much freer character and the author is even in a position to combine it in many different ways. Among the most commonly used are the following: CDE CDE, CDC DCD, CDE DCE, CDE CED.
Types of sonnet
Due to the great trajectory of the sonnet, as a lyric subgenre throughout history, it has evolved and with it, several modalities of the sonnet have been developed, which we can identify below according to their particular type of composition:
In this case, it is a sonnet that is composed in verses of minor art, that is to say, it is about verses that have up to eight syllables or less than that.
It is one of the types of sonnet that allows greater dynamism for the poet, since in this modality, in the sonnet, the initial letters of each of the verses give form to an acrostic, that is to say, the initial letters of each verse read vertically present a legible phrase or word composition.
In this sonnet the quatrains will have the form of an acute octave, that is, composed in the 4th and 8th acute lines, while the stanzas in tercets have acute lines in the 11th and 14th lines, which rhyme with each other.
As its name indicates, they will be compound verses within the Alexandrian structure, that is to say, they will have fourteen metrical syllables in the verse, with two hemistiches each of seven syllables and are accented on the third and tenth syllables.
In this case, the sonnet will have a totally assonant rhyme, that is to say, it will be the rhyme in which the vowel sounds that belong to the last syllable of each line of verse coincide.
Sonnet with tail
This is the sonnet in which a pentasyllabic, also known as a broken tetra, is introduced every two lines.
In this type of sonnet, the same rhyme is maintained throughout the stanzas, both in the quatrains and in the third stanzas.
Sonnet of independent quatrains
Unlike the previous type of sonnet, in this case it is the sonnet in which each of the stanzas, especially in the quatrains, have different rhymes.
It is characterized mainly because in its composition we can see the form of a dialogue accompanied by its corresponding signs in each of the verses.
Also known as double sonnet, it is the one in which broken lines are added, especially two in each of the quatrain stanzas and only one in the case of tercets. Thus, the broken lines will form a rhyme with the whole lines, similar to what happens with the sonnet with tail.
Sonnet with echo
In this type of sonnet, the word with which each of the lines ends repeats the part of the ending with the word immediately preceding it, so that it rhymes an echo with it.
In this modality, the first word of each line from the second line on, forms a rhyme with the last word of the immediately preceding line.
These are sonnets in which the tercets precede the stanzas formed in quatrains.
In this sonnet the rhyme alternates with words that can belong to either the masculine or feminine gender.
As its name indicates, in this sonnet the sense is organized in an ascending way until the penultimate line of the stanza, in such a way that it is reduced.
Sonnet with strambote
In this type of sonnet, one or more groups of three lines are introduced at the end, which are usually heptasyllables that rhyme with the previous line, two hendecasyllables that form a couplet, but the heptasyllable is always present.
Inspired by Shakespeare, this type of sonnet will consist of three quatrains that do not rhyme but have a final couplet.
Sonnet with repetition
In this sonnet the last word of each line is repeated at the beginning of the next line.
These are sonnets in heptasyllabic verse.
In this modality, the sonnet in which the rhyme of the quatrains occurs is organized in couplets just like the tercets.
It is a sonnet in which the rhyme alternates during the stanzas composed in quatrains.
In this case, the sonnet has form and meaning if it is read in a different direction.
Also known as morphosonnet, in this case, isosyllabic sonnets are accumulated with variations in their structure, especially in the rhyme, so that sonnets of monorhythmic verse, arromanzados, among others, will appear.
As its name indicates, in this case the sonnet makes sense in up to three different languages.
In this type of sonnet, the last line is not entered. It is characterized for being a much more modernist modality.
This sonnet is composed in lines of verse whose number of syllables are usually different from each other.
How to write it?
Now, let’s see step by step how to write a sonnet and everything we must take into account:
1. Define the theme of the sonnet
Thinking about what we want to write about may not be so easy at first, however we will soon find a theme since in the sonnet we can write about a wide variety of topics, from love, to time, to life itself and death. So, take a poll for an aspect that awakens your deepest feelings, indignation, love, passion, etc. This will be our starting point.
You can also refer to a memory, an idea, a situation that has been of great importance to you, a decisive event, a wish, etc.
2. Make a list of phrases and ideas
We usually recommend this technique to avoid forgetting words that we wanted to add, ideas or key concepts that should not go unnoticed. Make a list of these aspects so that you can then arrange them taking into account the number of syllables and the type of stanza in which they will be included.
3. Start writing
At this point, when you have already defined the topic you want to write about, it is extremely important to have the structure of the sonnet at hand to start consolidating it, you will find it in the initial information. Having this before you start writing will allow you to follow its compositional rule to avoid going out of the subgenre.
Remember that although it is not a requirement, in the initial stage above all, it is convenient to pay attention to the composition that begins with the beginning, knot and denouement to fix, later, a conclusion of the sonnet. It is a narrative order that facilitates the course of the composition.
4. Build the end of the sonnet
It is important to keep in mind that although it is not a rule, it is one of the aspects that have allowed us to distinguish the sonnet from other types of lyric compositions, since the closing of a sonnet often includes a conclusion, reflection or thought with which the poet closes his work.
This is a type of element that arises with the course of events that unfolded in the previous stanzas, where the pure feeling and the writer’s gaze are also reflected.
5. Review your sonnet
Once you have finished, review your sonnet several times, you can even try reading it aloud to evaluate the scope of feeling of its words, the sense of composition and examine if it fulfills the conditions given for its composition. In this part you may also find some phrases that you would like to change or improve, now is the time to do it.
Avoid using words that are too common, opt for synonyms and analyze how they work within the composition of the sonnet. Starting to write a sonnet is not an easy task, it requires a lot of time and dedication, you can help yourself and take references like the ones you will see below to start discovering more possibilities when writing your own sonnets.
Authors and most important works
Among its main exponents, we find Guido Guinizelli, Pedro de Vignes, Guittone d’Arezzo, Dante Alighieri and Francisco de Petrarca, who is considered one of the inventors of the sonnet, applying sublime expressions that are inspired by the source of love and go down in history with its type of composition and structure, although this title has also been given to Giacomo da Lentini.
Other important authors will also appear centuries later, among whom we find Miguel de Cervantes, Rubén Darío, Federico García Lorca, Francisco de Quevedo, William Shakespeare, Luis de Camoes, Pierre de Ronsard, Stefan George, Rainer María Rilke, Ernst Schwabe, Georg Rudolf Weckherlin, Charles Baudelaire, Jorge Guillén, Rafael Alberti, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, Luis de Góngora, Juan Boscán, Garcilaso de la Vega, Juana Inés de la Cruz, Lope de Vega, Manuel Machado, among others.
Example of a sonnet
The following is an excerpt from a sonnet entitled “A Córdoba” written by Luis de Góngora:
Oh lofty wall, oh crowned towers
of honor, of majesty, of gallantry!
O great river, great king of Andalusia!
of noble sands, now that they are not golden!
O fertile plain, O uplifted mountain ranges
that privileges the sky and gilds the day!
O always glorious homeland of mine!
as much for feathers as for swords!
To learn more sub-genres of lyric poetry, don’t forget to visit our Literature section, in the genres area, where you will find all the existing ones and much more information about the art of literature.