By Muhammad Faseeh ul Hassan


The term derives from the Italian word sonetto which means a ‘little sound’ or ‘song’. Except for the curtal sonnet the ordinary sonnet consists of fourteen lines, usually in iambic pentameters with considerable variation in rhyme scheme. The earliest sonnets are attributed to Giacomo da Lentino (1215-33) of the Sicilian School. It may also have been invented by another poet at the court of the Emperor Frederick II in Sicily. The writers of the sonnets are called as Sonneteers.

The sonnet has become famous among various poets since it has an incredible flexibility to various purposes and prerequisites. Rhyming plan is carefully followed. It may be an ideal lovely style for expression of a single feeling or thought. Because of its short length, it is not difficult to oversee for both the poet and the peruser.

Types of Sonnet

Sonnet can be categorized into six major types;

  1. Italian sonnet
  2. Shakespearean sonnet
  3. Spenserian sonnet
  4. Miltonic sonnet
  5. Terza Rima sonnet
  6. Curtal sonnet

Italian Sonnet

The Italian form is the commonest in sonnets also called as Petrarchan sonnet. This form probably developed from the Sicilian strambotto. The earliest sonnets are attributed to Giacomo da Lentino (1215-33) of the Sicilian School. But the form may have been invented by another poet at the court of Emperor Frederick II in Sicily. At any rate, throughout the later Middle Ages, the form was used by all the Italian lyric poets, notably Guinicelli, Cavalcanti and Dante.

It was Petrarch, more than anyone, who established the sonnet as one of the major forms. His Canzonire were a kind of encyclopaedia of love and passion. Thereafter, several Italian poets composed the sonnets which have remained famous. They include Bembo (1470-1547), Michelanglo (1475-1564), Castiglione (1478-1529) and Tasso (1544-95).

The Italian sonnet comprise of an octave having rhyming scheme ‘abbabba’ and a sestet with rhyming scheme ‘cdecde’ or ‘cdcdcd’. The octave develops one thought; there is then a ‘turn’ or volta, and the sestet grows out of the octave, varies it and completes it.

Shakespearean Sonnet

A fourteen line poem in iambic parameters (with subtle variation on the iambic pattern) consisting of three quatrains and a concluding couplet. It is so named because Shakespeare was its great practitioner. It is a variant of the Petrarchan sonnet which is also known as the English sonnet. It was developed particularly by Sir Thomas Wyatt and Earl of Surrey during the Tudor period. The rhyme scheme is normally ‘abab, cdcd, efef, gg’ or ‘abba, cddc, effe, gg’. The problem is discussed in the three quatrains and the resolution is given in the final couplet.

Spenserian Sonnet

The Spenserian sonnet is developed by and named after Edmund Spenser. This form comprises three quatrains and a couplet, with the rhyming scheme of abab, bcbc, cdcd, ee. It is also known as the link sonnet because of the rhyming scheme. It has the binding couplet of the Shakespearian sonnet at the end.

Miltonic Sonnets

This form is named after the English poet John Milton. Milton did not write a sequence and he did not write about love. His sonnets belong to the genre of occasional verse and thus are about a particular event, person or occasion, like When the Assault was Intended to the City, To the Lord General Cromwell and On the Late Massacre in Piedmont. This form uses the similar rhyming scheme ( abbaabba cdecde) and structure (an octave and a sestet) of a Petrarchan sonnet. Miltonic sonnets deal with different themes than the other types of sonnets, as discussed above.

Terza Rima Sonnet

The term is occasionally used to describe a quatorzain whose rhyme uses the inerlocking method of the terza rima. The rhyme pattern of aba, bcb, cdc, ded, ee (the same from as the sections in Shelly’s Ode to the West Wind) is similar to the Spenserian sonnet.

Terza Rima was the measure adopted by Dante for is Divina Commedia, consisting a series of interlocking tercets in which the second line of each one rhymes with the first and third lines of the one coming after, thus: aba, bcb, cdc. At the end of the canto a single line rhymes with the second from last: wxyz.

Terza Rima was also used by Petrarch and Boccaccio. Chaucer used it for part of A Compliment to his Lady, but it was Sir Thomas Wyatt who pioneered its use in England. Because it is difficult to manage (few Italian poets have used it successfully) it has never been very adaptable our popular outside Italy.

Curtal Sonnet

Literally a sonnet cut short. Gerard Manley Hopkins used the term in Preface to Poems (1989) to describe a curtailed form of sonnet of his invention. He diminished the quantity of lines from fourteen to ten, isolated into two stanzas: one of six lines, the other of four – with a half-line tail-piece.

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