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poem of 14 lines, usually in iambic pentameter, restricted to a definite rhyme scheme. There are two prominent types: the Italian, or Petrarchan, sonnet, composed of an octave and a sestet (rhyming abbaabba cdecde), and the Elizabethan, or Shakespearean, sonnet, consisting of three quatrains and a couplet (rhyming abab cdcd efef gg). Variations of these schemes occur, notably the Spenserian sonnet, after Edmund Spenser (rhyming abab bcbc cdcd ee). The sonnet is generally believed to have developed from medieval songs. In Italy, where it was cultivated during the Renaissance, it achieved great expression in the work of PetrarchPetrarch
or Francesco Petrarca
, 1304–74, Italian poet and humanist, one of the great figures of Italian literature. He spent his youth in Tuscany and Avignon and at Bologna.
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, Dante, Tasso, and Michelangelo. The form was introduced into Spain by Almogáver, into Portugal by Camões, into France by Saint-Gelays and Marot, and into England by Wyatt and Surrey. The sonnet came into prominence in Germany during the romantic period in the work of Goethe, Schlegel, Heyse, and others. Innumerable sonnets and sonnet sequences appeared in Elizabethan England, notably by Sidney, Spenser, and Shakespeare. Around the time of Milton's great sonnets, the use of the form began to decrease, but with the advent of romanticism in the early 19th cent. the sonnet again achieved popularity in the poetry of Wordsworth and Keats. Poets such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the Rossettis, and George Meredith in the 19th cent. and Dylan Thomas and W. H. Auden in the 20th cent. also wrote sonnets. American poets noted for their sonnets include Longfellow, E. A. Robinson, Elinor Wylie, and Edna St. Vincent Millay.


See S. Burt and D. Mikics, The Art of the Sonnet (2010).



a fixed verse form; a poem of 14 lines grouped into two quatrains and two tercets. In the quatrains only two rhymes are repeated, and in the tercets, two or three. The two most common forms are the Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet, with the quatrains patterned abab abab or abba abba and the tercets cdc dcd or cde cde, and the French sonnet, with the pattern abba abba and ccd eed or ccd ede. The sonnet has an 11-syllable line in Italian and Spanish poetry and a 12-syllable line in French poetry. In English poetry, the sonnet’s line is the iambic pentameter, and in German and Russian poetry, the iambic pentameter or hexameter. There are many variations of the classic scheme. These include changes in the order of the rhymes, for example, abab baab, as in Pushkin’s “To the Poet,” the use of additional rhymes, such as abba cddc, or of additional lines in a coda, a free order of the quatrains and tercets, and the use of nontraditional meters. Of such free forms, only the English Shakespearian sonnet {abab cdcd efef gg) has been to some extent accepted within the literary canon.

The precision of the sonnet’s internal structure facilitates emphasis on the dialectical development of the theme. Early theorists established rules for the form and content of the sonnet. According to these rules, there should be periods and pauses at the end of the stanzas, no important word should be repeated, and the last word should provide the key to the meaning of the poem. More recently, the development of the theme throughout the four stanzas of the sonnet has often been understood as a sequence, for example, thesis-development of the thesis-antithesis-synthesis or theme-development-culmination-denouement.

The sonnet is the only fixed verse form in European poetry that was widely and freely used for the lyric. The sonnet arose in Italy in the first half of the 13th century and attained its classic form in Florence in the late 13th century with Dante. It became very popular owing to F. Petrarch’s 317 sonnets about Laura and dominated Italian Renaissance and baroque lyric poetry. In the 16th century the sonnet reached Spain, Portugual, France, and England (Lope de Vega, L. V. de Camōes, P. Ronsard, J. Du Bellay, Shakespeare, J. Donne), in the 17th century, Germany, and in the 18th century, Russia (V. K. Trediakovskii, A. P. Sumaro-kov).

Romanticism revived interest in the sonnet, which had declined during the period of classicism and the Enlightenment. The form flourished in Germany (A. W. von Schlegel, N. Lenau, K. Platen) and in England (W. Wordsworth, E. B. Browning, D. G. Rossetti). It attained some popularity in the Slavic countries (J. Kollár, A. Mickiewicz), in Russia (A. A. Del’vig, A. A. Grigor’ev), and in France (C. Baudelaire, J. M. de Heredia).

The sonnet has been cultivated by such symbolist and modernist poets as P. Verlaine, P. Valéry, G. D’Annunzio, S. George, R. M. Rilke, V. I. Ivanov, and V. Ia. Briusov. None of the poets who overcame modernism utilized the sonnet to a great extent, and among them only J. R. Becher cultivated the form. Some Soviet poets, including I. Sel’vinskii and S. Kirsanov, have experimented with the sonnet.


Grossman, L. “Poetika russkogo soneta.” In Bor’ba za stil’. Moscow, 1927.
Shengeli, G. Tekhnika stikha. Moscow, 1960.
Moroz, O. N. Etiudy prosonet. Kiev, 1973. (Contains bibliography.)
Mönch, W. Das Sonett: Gestalt und Geschichte. Heidelberg, 1955. (Contains bibliography.)



a verse form of Italian origin consisting of 14 lines in iambic pentameter with rhymes arranged according to a fixed scheme, usually divided either into octave and sestet or, in the English form, into three quatrains and a couplet
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