Rail yard background, from the Library of Congress

Connections

A Hypertext Resource for Literature

back one section Section back one page Page    Page 1.2.14    Page forward one page Section forward one section

The Sonnet
[Page 1]

Much of the nature of sonnets arises from one simple characteristic of their form: sonnets are short. Sonnets therefore develop a single, self-contained topic, often as a first-person expression of the speaker's emotions. When a poet chooses to write a sonnet, he or she participates in a tradition of writers who have spent centuries exploring the limits and possibilities that a fourteen-line form creates. Every word and beat of a sonnet, even more than those of other traditional verse, carries a heavy burden of tradition and association, calling to mind an Italian tradition identified with Petrarch, an English tradition identified largely with Shakespeare and Milton, and generations of later sonneteers who have revised and adapted the sonnet tradition.

In its most conventional form, a sonnet in English contains fourteen lines of iambic pentameter--a meter whose typical lines have five feet of two syllables each, with the second syllable stressed in each foot. (See Lines and Feet in the Terms section for more on iambic pentameter and its alternatives.) Poets and critics tend to group sonnets into the two major categories mentioned above: Petrarchan and Shakespearean (also called Italian and English, respectively). The following pages explain those categories.

back one section Section back one page Page    Page 1.2.14    Page forward one page Section forward one section