A study of the sonnet in English Poetry



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This study presents the history of the sonnet from its origin in Italy to its present stage of development. Because the sonnet found its way into English poetry from Italian literature, the study begins with commentary on the Italian sonneteers, and singles out Petrarch for special commendation since he established the structural form of the sonnet which has since existed. The introduction of the sonnet into English poetry is discussed in the second chapter. It is quite apparent from the illustrated sonnets first published in England that the sonnet had taken deep root in the soil of English literature in spite of the evident deficiencies and irregularities. The evolution of the true English or Shakespearian sonnet is studied in the third chapter. Innovations and variations which represent experimentation on the part of the Elizabethan poets led to distinctive English contribution in the achievement of the Shakespearian sonnet. The Miltonic sonnet as presented in the fourth chapter shows that although Milton used the Petrarcan model, he really invented a form of his own. Milton united the octave and the sestet and thus omitted the pause which was the very object and end of the Petrarcan scheme. The fifth chapter concerns itself with the sonnet during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It points out that the obscure poets of the Classic Age who fanned the dying embers of the sonnet into the glow of the Romantic revival were rewarded in the sonnets of Wordsworth, Keats and minor poets who passed on to posterity sonnets of quantity and quality. The sixth and seventh chapters reveal the sonnets growth, artistic development and expansion in scope during the last one hundred years. As it emerged from the Victorian poets, it had assumed the proportions of a true piece of art. The sonnet of our day has expanded to such a degree as to fill two distinct purposes—character portraiture and singing lyricism.