Sonnets…what are they and where did they come from?

The basic concept of a sonnet is simple.

1.      It takes two related and yet at the same time contrasting things.

2.      These things can be:

  • Emotions
  • Events
  • Ideas
  • Beliefs

You get the idea right?

3.      It juxtaposes these two things against each other.

4.      It can resolve the two things.

5.      Or it can simply reveal what tension arises and occurs between these two things.

The sonnet came originally from Europe.

The word sonnet comes from two terms, sonet and sonetto, which both mean ‘little song’ and ‘little sound’.

Around the 13th century the word sonnet began to mean a poem that consists of 14 lines. It had developed a strict rhyming plan and a definite structure.

The types of sonnets that are the most well known are:

  • English sonnet
  • Shakespearean sonnet
  • Spenserian sonnet
  • Petrarchan sonnet
  • Modern sonnet

There are other forms of sonnets: these are less common though.

One sonnet survives in the Occitan language and is dated at 1284. It was written by Paola Lanfranchi da Pistoia. It is addressed to Peter III of Aragon.

Valiant Lord, king of the Aragonese

to whom honour grows every day closer,

remember, Lord, the French king

that has come to find you and has left France

With his two sons and that one of Artois;

but they have not dealt a blow with sword or lance

and many barons have left their country:

but a day will come when they will have some to remember.

Our Lord make yourself a company

in order that you might fear nothing;

that one who would appear to lose might win.

Lord of the land and the sea,

as whom the king of England and that of Spain

are not worth as much, if you wish to help them.


The Caudate sonnet (24 lines), Curtal (10 ½ lines) sonnet, Pushkin sonnet, and the 21 line fusion sonnet are other lesser known types of sonnets.

John Milton adapted the sonnet into a contemplative poem, while poets such as John Donne wrote religious sonnets.

During the Restoration sonnets became passé; it wasn’t until the French revolution that a resurgence of sonnets took place.

Again during the 19th century the amount of sonnets would wane, but as experimentation took place with the sonnet, and it offered greater flexibility, the sonnet began to appear on a more regular basis.

These days contemporary poets are adapting the poetic form and to some extent the sonnet has again become fashionable.

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Author: Jo Bryant

I was born in the land of Banjo Paterson, gum trees, and weather extremes. I am a freelance writer. I live in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand, but still like to claim my Australian heritage. I graduated with a Bachelor of Communications in 2008. I am writing my first novel. I love to write poetry, short stories, and also write for the web. And there is nothing that is on a par with a sunny summer's day spent at Waihi Beach.

5 thoughts on “Sonnets…what are they and where did they come from?”

  1. Thank you for this post, Jo! You definitely lit up a dark room in my house of poetic knowledge:) Now…do we get to hear one of Jo’s sonnets?? wish…wish…wish:)

    Like

    1. I am working on one – I find it a very difficult type of poetry to get to a stage that I am happy with. But when I do – up it will go !!!
      Glad to help with the lighting problem…

      🙂 :0

      Like

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