What is a sonnet?

We explain what a sonnet is and a list of various European sonnetists. In addition, some examples of this poetic composition.

  1. What is a sonnet?

It is known as a sonnet to an extremely frequent poetic composition in the Europe of the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries , which consists of 14 major art verses (usually encasyllables), organized into four stanzas: two quartets (4 verses each ) and two thirds (three verses each).

The theme of the sonnets  could be loving, mystical or of any other nature , and usually it was distributed as follows: the first stanza raised the subject, the second developed it, the first third reflects on what was said or raised a feeling in this regard, and the latter ended with a deep feeling, detached from the above. Thus, there was an introduction , development and conclusion in the poem .

The sonnet  is originally from Sicily, Italy , from where it passed to the rest of the country and was cultivated by the poets of  Dolce stil nuovo , such as Guido Guinizzelli (1240-1276) and Guido Cavalcanti (1259-1300), who transmitted it to Dante Alighieri and especially to Petrarca (both of the fifteenth century), the great Latin poet who popularized the sonnet in the European world as the ideal poetic form for love.  

Other great European sonnetists were:

  • In the Spanish language : Garcilaso de la Vega, Juan Boscán, the Spanish Golden Age poets such as Lope de Vega, Luis de Góngora, Francisco de Quevedo, Pedro Calderón de la Barca and Miguel de Cervantes. It was also cultivated in America by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and, very later, in the 19th century, Latin American modernists such as Rubén Darío, the Spaniards Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer and Manuel Machado, and later in the 20th century the members of the generation of the 27: Federico García Lorca, Jorge Guillén, Rafael Alberti.
  • In the French language : The great French sonnetist was Clément Marot (1496-1544), who influenced later Pierre de Ronsard and Joachim du Bellay, since the period of sonnet splendor in France takes place in the 17th century. It disappeared in the following century, but in the nineteenth century it reappears with Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine and Stéphane Mallarmé.
  • In English : The sonnet is introduced in England in the sixteenth century, by the hand of Thomas Wyatt, translator of Petrarch and author of about 30 own sonnets. This genre would change over time until William Shakespeare reached the “English sonnet” or “Elizabethan sonnet.” It was also cultivated by John Milton, William Wordsworth and Thomas Hardy. In the United States, by Longfellow, GH Broker and EA Robinson, among others.
  • The  Portuguese language : Foundational poets such as Luís de Camões or Antero de Quental cultivated the sonnet, after Sá de Miranda introduced it after a trip to Italy in the 16th century.
  • In German language : The sonnet arrives in German thanks to Ernst Schwabe and Georg Rudolf Wekherlin, using Alexandrians instead of endecasyllabs. Other cultists of the sonnet were Stefan Gerge, Hugo von Hofmannstahl and Rainer María Rilke.
  1. Sonnet Examples

  • “Defining love”, by Francisco de Quevedo 

It is scorching ice, it is icy fire, it
is hurt, it hurts and does not feel, it
is a good dream, a bad present, it
is a short rest very tired.

It is an oversight, which gives us care,
a coward, with a brave name,
a lonely walk among people,
a love only to be loved.

It is an imprisoned freedom,
which lasts until the last paroxysm, a
disease that grows if it is cured.

This is the child Love, this is your abyss:
look at what friendship he will have with anything,
the one who is contrary to himself in everything.

  • “Sad sighs, tired tears”, by Luis de Góngora 

Sad sighs, tired tears,
which throws the heart, the eyes rain,
the trunks bathe and the branches move
from these plants to consecrated Alcides;

but from the wind the forces conjured
the sighs unleash and remove,
and the trunks the tears are drunk,
badly they and worse they shed.

Even in my tender face that tribute
that my eyes give, an invisible hand
of shadow or air leaves me thin,

because that fiercely human angel does
not create my pain, and so it is my fruit to
cry without reward and sigh in vain.

  • “Sonnet to Laura”, by Petrarca 

Peace I can’t find and can’t make war,
and I burn and I’m ice; and I fear and all postponement;
and I fly over the sky and lie on the ground;
and nothing squeeze and everyone hug.

Who has me in prison, neither opens nor closes,
does not hold me or release my tie;
and love does not kill me nor does it undo me,
nor does it love me or take away my pregnancy.

I see without eyes and without screaming tongue;
and I ask for help and seem longing;
I love others and for myself I feel hated.

Crying scream and pain transit;
death and life give me equal attention;
for you I am, Madam, in this state.

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