sonnet is a poetic form which originated in the Italian poetry composed at the Court of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in Palermo, Sicily. The 13th-century poet and notary Giacomo da Lentini is credited with the sonnet’s invention for expressing courtly love. The Sicilian School of poets who surrounded him at the Emperor’s Court are credited with its spread. The earliest sonnets, however, no longer survive in the original Sicilian language, but only after being translated into Tuscan dialect.

The term sonnet is derived from the Italian word sonetto (lit. “little song”, derived from the Latin word sonus, meaning a sound). By the 13th century it signified a poem of fourteen lines that follows a very strict rhyme scheme and structure.

According to Christopher Blum, during the Renaissance, the sonnet was the “choice mode of expressing romantic love.” As the sonnet form has spread to languages other than Italian, however, conventions have changed considerably and any subject is now considered acceptable for writers of sonnets, who are sometimes called “sonneteers,” although the term can be used derisively.

Romance languages


The sonnet is believed to have been created by Giacomo da Lentini, leader of the Sicilian School under Emperor Frederick II. Peter Dronke has commented that there was something intrinsic to its flexible form that contributed to its survival far beyond its region of origin. The form consisted of a pair of quatrains followed by a pair of tercets with the symmetrical rhyme scheme ABABABAB//CDCDCD, where the sense is carried forward in a new direction after the midway break. William Baer suggests that the first eight lines of the earliest Sicilian sonnets are identical to the eight-line Sicilian folksong stanza known as the Strambotto. To this, da Lentini (or whoever else invented the form) added two tercets to the Strambotto in order to create the new 14-line sonnet form.

In contrast, Hassanaly Ladha has argued that both the sonnet’s structure and content show continuity with Arabic poetic forms and cannot be so easily reduced to the “invention” of Giacomo de Lentini or any member of the Sicilian School. Ladha notes that “in its Sicilian beginnings, the sonnet evinces literary and epistemological contact with the qasida“, and emphasizes that the sonnet did not emerge simultaneously with its supposedly defining 14-line structure. “Tellingly, attempts to close off the sonnet from its Arabic predecessors depend upon a definition of the new lyric to which Giacomo’s poetry does not conform: surviving in thirteenth-century recensions, his poems appear not in fourteen, but rather six lines, including four rows, each with two hemistiches, and two “tercets”, each in a line extending over two rows.” In this view, the sonnet should be seen as continuous with a broader Mediterranean tradition of lyric poetry. “[T]he Sicilian sonnet alludes to songs and lyrics throughout the Mediterranean, including the Sicilian strambotto, the Provençal canso, the Spanish muwashshah and zajal, and the Arabic qasida, amongst others.”

Guittone d’Arezzo (c. 1235–1294) rediscovered the sonnet form and brought it to Tuscany where he adapted it to his language when he founded the Siculo-Tuscan School, or Guittonian school of poetry (1235–1294). He wrote almost 250 sonnets. Other Italian poets of the time, including Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) and Guido Cavalcanti (c. 1250–1300), wrote sonnets, but the most famous early sonneteer was Petrarch. Other fine examples were written by Michelangelo.

The structure of a typical Italian sonnet of the time included two parts that together formed a compact form of “argument”. First, the octave forms the “proposition”, which describes a “problem” or “question”, followed by a sestet (two tercets) which proposes a “resolution”. Typically, the ninth line initiates what is called the “turn”, or “volta”, which signals the move from proposition to resolution. Even in sonnets that do not strictly follow the problem/resolution structure, the ninth line still often marks a “turn” by signaling a change in the tone, mood, or stance of the poem.

Later, the ABBA ABBA pattern became the standard for Italian sonnets. For the sestet there were two different possibilities: CDE CDE and CDC CDC. In time, other variants on this rhyming scheme were introduced, such as CDCDCD. Petrarch typically used an ABBA ABBA pattern for the octave, followed by either CDE CDE or CDC CDC rhymes in the sestet.


At the turn of the 14th century there arrive early examples of the sonnet sequence unified about a single theme. This is represented by Folgore da San Geminiano’s series on the months of the year, followed by his sequence on the days of the week. At a slightly earlier date, Dante had published his La Vita Nuova, a narrative commentary in which appear sonnets and other lyrical forms centred on the poet’s love for Beatrice. Most of the sonnets there are Petrarchan (here used as a purely stylistic term since Dante predated Petrarch). Chapter VII gives the sonnet “O voi che per la via”, with two sestets (AABAAB AABAAB) and two quatrains (CDDC CDDC), and Ch. VIII, “Morte villana”, with two sestets (AABBBA AABBBA) and two quatrains (CDDC CDDC). Petrarch followed in his footsteps later in the next century with the 366 sonnets of the Canzionere, which chronicle his life-long love for Laura. A comic sonnet sequence can be added to the kinds of Italian verse inventions as well. This was Giovanni Battista Casti’s much later I Tre Giuli (1762), two hundred sonnets on owing the sum of three silver groats, in which “Compelled to sing his debt, the poet compares himself to Homer” and vows not to repay.


The sole confirmed surviving sonnet in the Occitan language is confidently dated to 1284, and is conserved only in troubadour manuscript P, an Italian chansonnier of 1310, now XLI.42 in the Biblioteca Laurenziana in Florence. It was written by Paolo Lanfranchi da Pistoia and is addressed to Peter III of Aragon. It employs the rhyme scheme ABAB ABAB CDCDCD. This poem is historically interesting for its information on north Italian perspectives concerning the War of the Sicilian Vespers, the conflict between the Angevins and Aragonese for Sicily. Peter III and the Aragonese cause was popular in northern Italy at the time and Paolo’s sonnet is a celebration of his victory over the Angevins and Capetians in the Aragonese Crusade:

   Valenz Senher, rei dels Aragones
a qi prez es honors tut iorn enansa,
remembre vus, Senher, del Rei franzes
qe vus venc a vezer e laiset Fransa
   Ab dos sos fillz es ab aqel d’Artes;
hanc no fes colp d’espaza ni de lansa
e mainz baros menet de lur paes:
jorn de lur vida said n’auran menbransa.
   Nostre Senhier faccia a vus compagna
per qe en ren no vus qal[la] duptar;
tals quida hom qe perda qe gazaingna.
   Seigner es de la terra e de la mar,
per qe lo Rei Engles e sel d’Espangna
ne varran mais, vorres aiudar.
   Valiant Lord, king of the Aragonese
to whom honour grows every day closer,
remember, Lord, the French king
that has come to find you and has left France
   With his two sons and that one of Artois;
but they have not dealt a blow with sword or lance
and many barons have left their country:
but a day will come when they will have some to remember.
   Our Lord make yourself a company
in order that you might fear nothing;
that one who would appear to lose might win.
   Lord of the land and the sea,
as whom the king of England and that of Spain
are not worth as much, if you wish to help them.

An Occitan sonnet, dated to 1321 and assigned to one “William of Almarichi”, is found in Jean de Nostredame and cited in Giovanni Mario Crescimbeni’s, Istoria della volgar poesia. It congratulates Robert of Naples on his recent victory. Its authenticity is dubious. There are also two poorly regarded sonnets by the Italian Dante de Maiano


One of the earliest sonnets in Catalan was written by Pere Torroella (1436-1486). In the 16th century, the most prolific and subtle Catalan writer of sonnets was Pere Serafí, author of over 60 published between 1560 and 1565.


Main article: Spanish poetry

According to Willis Barnstone, the introduction of the sonnet into Spanish language poetry began with a chance meeting in 1526 between the Catalan poet Juan Boscán and Andrea Navagero, the Venetian Ambassador to the Spanish Court. While the Ambassador was accompanying King Carlos V on a state visit to the Alhambra, he encountered Boscán along the banks of the Darro River in Granada. As they talked, Navagero strongly urged Boscán to introduce the sonnet and other Italian forms into Spanish poetry. A few days later, Boscán began trying to compose sonnets as he rode home and found the form, “of a very capable disposition to receive whatever material, whether grave or subtle or difficult or easy, and in itself good for joining with any style that we find among the approved ancient authors.”

In more modern times, Juan Ramón Jiménez wrote Sonetos espirituales 1914–1916 (“Spiritual Sonnets”), and in 1936 Federico García Lorca compiled his Sonetos del amor oscuro (Sonnets of Dark Love), which remained unpublished until after his death. In Mascarilla y trébol (Mask and Clover, 1938), the final volume which marks the height of her poetic experimentation, Argentine poet Alfonsina Storni included what she termed “antisonnets,” or poems that used many of the versification structures of traditional sonnets but did not follow the traditional rhyme scheme. The later sonnets of Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges are radically innovative in both form and content, drawing upon the elements of both magical realism and metafiction.


Main article: Portuguese poetry

Sonnets by Portugal’s national poet, Luís de Camões generally follow the styles of Italian poetry, but in them the influence of the Spanish pioneers of the form has also been discerned.


Main article: French poetry

In French prosody, sonnets are traditionally composed in the French alexandrine, which consists of lines of twelve syllables with a central caesura. Imitations of Petrarch were first introduced by Clément Marot, and Mellin de Saint-Gelais also took up the form near the start of the 16th century. They were later followed by Pierre de Ronsard, Joachim du Bellay and Jean Antoine de Baïf, around whom formed a group of radical young noble poets of the court, generally known today as La Pléiade. They employed, amongst other forms of poetry, the Petrarchan sonnet cycle, developed around an amorous encounter or an idealized woman. The character of the group’s literary program was given in Du Bellay’s manifesto, the “Defense and Illustration of the French Language” (1549), which maintained that French (like the Tuscan of Petrarch and Dante) was a worthy language for literary expression, and which promulgated a program of linguistic and literary production and purification.

In the aftermath of the Wars of Religion, French Catholic jurist and poet Jean de La Ceppède published the Theorems, a sequence of 515 sonnets with non-traditional rhyme schemes, about the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Drawing upon the Gospels, Greek and Roman Mythology, and the Fathers of the Church, La Ceppède’s poetry was praised by Saint Francis de Sales for transforming “the Pagan Muses into Christian ones.” La Ceppède’s sonnets often attack the Calvinist doctrine of a judgmental and unforgiving God by focusing on Christ’s passionate love for the human race. Afterwards the work was long forgotten, until the 20th century witnessed a revival of interest in the poet, and his sonnets are now regarded as classic works of French poetry.

By the late 17th century the sonnet had fallen out of fashion but was revived by the Romantics in the 19th century. Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve then published his imitation of William Wordsworth’s “Scorn not the sonnet” where, in addition to the poets enumerated in the English original – Shakespeare, Petrarch, Tasso, Camoens, Dante, Spenser, Milton – Sainte-Beuve announces his own intention to revive the form and adds the names of Du Bellay and Ronsard in the final tercet. The form was little used, however, until the Parnassians brought it back into favour. From that time on there were many deviations from the traditional sonnet form. Charles Baudelaire was responsible for significant variations in rhyme-scheme and line-length in the poems included in Les Fleurs du mal. Among the variations made by others, Théodore de Banville’s Sur une dame blonde limited itself to a four-syllable line, while in À une jeune morte Jules de Rességuier (1788 – 1862) composed a sonnet monosyllabically lined.

Germanic languages


Paulus Melissus (1539–1602) was the first to introduce both the sonnet and terza rima into German poetry. In his lifetime he was recognized as an author fully versed in Latin love poetry.

The sonnet became especially popular in Germany through the work of Georg Rudolf Weckherlin and reached prominence through the poetry of the German Romantics.

Germany’s national poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, also wrote many sonnets, using a rhyme scheme derived from Italian poetry. After his death, Goethe’s followers created the German sonnet, which is rhymed . a. b. b. a. . . b. c. c. b. . . c. d. d. . . c. d. d.

Sonnets were also written by August Wilhelm von Schlegel, Paul von Heyse, and others who established a tradition that reached fruition in the Sonnets to Orpheus, a cycle of 55 sonnets written in 1922 by the Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926). It was first published the following year.

Rilke, who is “widely recognized as one of the most lyrically intense German-language poets”, wrote the cycle in a period of three weeks experiencing what he described as a “savage creative storm”. Inspired by the news of the death of Wera Ouckama Knoop (1900–1919), a playmate of Rilke’s daughter Ruth, he dedicated them as a memorial, or Grab-Mal (literally “grave-marker”), to her memory.

In 1920, German war poet Anton Schnack, whom Patrick Bridgwater has dubbed, “one of the two unambiguously great,” German poets of World War I and, “the only German language poet whose work can be compared with that of Wilfred Owen,” published the sonnet sequence, Tier rang gewaltig mit Tier (“Beast Strove Mightily with Beast”).

Also according to Bridgwater, “The poems in Tier gewaltig mit Tier, follow an apparently chronological course which suggests that Schnack served first in France and then in Italy. They trace the course of the war, as he experienced it, from departing for the front, through countless experiences to which few other German poets with the exception of Stramm have done justice in more than isolated poems, to retreat and the verge of defeat.”

The 60 sonnets that comprise Tier rang gewaltig mit Tier, “are dominated by themes of night and death.” Although his ABBACDDCEFGEFG rhyme scheme is typical of the sonnet form, Schnack also, “writes in the long line in free rhythms developed in Germany by Ernst Stadler.” Patrick Bridgwater, writing in 1985, called Tier rang gewaltig mit Tier, “without question the best single collection produced by a German war poet in 1914-18.” Bridgwater adds, however, that Anton Schnack, “is to this day virtually unknown even in Germany.”

Dutch poetry

In the Netherlands Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft introduced sonnets in the Baroque style, of which Mijn lief, mijn lief, mijn lief: soo sprack mijn lief mij toe presents a notable example of sound and word play. Another of his sonnets, dedicated to Hugo Grotius, was later translated by Edmund Gosse. In later centuries the sonnet form was dropped and then returned to by successive waves of innovators in an attempt to breathe new life into Dutch poetry when, in their eyes, it had lost its way. For the generation of the 1880s it was Jacques Perk’s sonnet sequence Mathilde which served as a rallying cry. And for a while in the early years of the new century, Martinus Nijhoff wrote notable sonnets before turning to more modernistic models.

Following World War 2, avant-garde poets declared war on all formalism, reacting particularly against the extreme subjectivity and self-agrandisment of representatives of the 1880s style like Willem Kloos, who had once begun a sonnet “In my deepest being I’m a god”. In reaction, Lucebert satirised such writing in the “sonnet” with which his first collection opened:

I/ me/ I/ me// me/ I/ me/ I// I/ I/ my// my/ my/ I

But by the end of the 20th century, formalist poets such as Gerrit Komrij and Jan Kal were writing sonnets again as part of their own reaction to the experimentalism of earlier decades.



See also: Shakespeare’s sonnets

William Shakespeare's Sonnet XXX ​as a wall poem in Leiden

William Shakespeare’s Sonnet XXX as a wall poem in Leiden

In English, both the English (or Shakespearean) sonnet and the Italian Petrarchan sonnet are traditionally written in iambic pentameter.

The first known sonnets in English, written by Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, used the Italian, Petrarchan form, as did sonnets by later English poets, including John Milton, Thomas Gray, William Wordsworth and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

When English sonnets were introduced by Thomas Wyatt (1503–1542) in the early 16th century, his sonnets and those of his contemporary the Earl of Surrey were chiefly translations and adaptations from the Italian of Dante Alighieri and Petrarch and from the French of Ronsard and others. While it was Wyatt who introduced the sonnet into English poetry, it was Surrey who developed the rhyme scheme – ABAB CDCD EFEF GG – which now characterizes the English sonnet. Having previously circulated in manuscripts only, both poets’ sonnets were first published in Richard Tottel’s Songes and Sonnetts, better known as Tottel’s Miscellany (1557).

It was, however, Sir Philip Sidney’s sequence Astrophel and Stella (1591) that started the English vogue for sonnet sequences. The next two decades saw sonnet sequences by William Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, Michael Drayton, Samuel Daniel, Fulke Greville, William Drummond of Hawthornden, and many others. These sonnets were all essentially inspired by the Petrarchan tradition, and generally treat of the poet’s love for some woman, with the exception of Shakespeare’s sequence of 154 sonnets. The form is often named after Shakespeare, not because he was the first to write in this form but because he became its most famous practitioner. The form consists of fourteen lines structured as three quatrains and a couplet. The third quatrain generally introduces an unexpected sharp thematic or imagistic “turn”, the volta. In Shakespeare’s sonnets, however, the volta usually comes in the couplet, and usually summarizes the theme of the poem or introduces a fresh new look at the theme. With only a rare exception (for example, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 145 in iambic tetrameter), the meter is iambic pentameter.

This example, Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 116”, illustrates the form (with some typical variances one may expect when reading an Elizabethan-age sonnet with modern eyes):

Let me not to the marriage of true minds (A)
Admit impediments, love is not love (B)*
Which alters when it alteration finds, (A)
Or bends with the remover to remove. (B)*
O no, it is an ever fixèd mark (C)**
That looks on tempests and is never shaken; (D)***
It is the star to every wand’ring bark, (C)**
Whose worth’s unknown although his height be taken. (D)***
Love’s not time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks (E)
Within his bending sickle’s compass come, (F)*
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, (E)
But bears it out even to the edge of doom: (F)*
If this be error and upon me proved, (G)*
I never writ, nor no man ever loved. (G)*

PRONUNCIATION/RHYME: Note changes in pronunciation since composition.
** PRONUNCIATION/METER: “Fixed” pronounced as two-syllables, “fix-ed”.
*** RHYME/METER: Feminine-rhyme-ending, eleven-syllable alternative.

The Prologue to Romeo and Juliet is also a sonnet, as is Romeo and Juliet’s first exchange in Act One, Scene Five, lines 104–117, beginning with “If I profane with my unworthiest hand” (104) and ending with “Then move not while my prayer’s effect I take” (117). The Epilogue to Henry V is also in the form of a sonnet.


Main article: Spenserian sonnet

A variant on the English form is the Spenserian sonnet, named after Edmund Spenser (c. 1552–1599), in which the rhyme scheme is ABAB BCBC CDCD EE. The linked rhymes of his quatrains suggest the linked rhymes of such Italian forms as terza rima. This example is taken from Amoretti:

Happy ye leaves! whenas those lily hands

Happy ye leaves. whenas those lily hands, (A)
Which hold my life in their dead doing might, (B)
Shall handle you, and hold in love’s soft bands, (A)
Like captives trembling at the victor’s sight. (B)
And happy lines on which, with starry light, (B)
Those lamping eyes will deign sometimes to look,(C)
And read the sorrows of my dying sprite, (B)
Written with tears in heart’s close bleeding book. (C)
And happy rhymes! bathed in the sacred brook (C)
Of Helicon, whence she derived is, (D)
When ye behold that angel’s blessed look, (C)
My soul’s long lacked food, my heaven’s bliss. (D)
Leaves, lines, and rhymes seek her to please alone, (E)
Whom if ye please, I care for other none. (E)

17th century

In the 17th century, the sonnet was adapted to other purposes, with Metaphysical poets John Donne and George Herbert writing religious sonnets (see Donne’s Holy Sonnets), and John Milton using the sonnet as a general meditative poem. Probably Milton’s most famous sonnet is “When I Consider How My Light is Spent”, titled by a later editor “On His Blindness”. Both the Shakespearean and Petrarchan rhyme schemes were popular throughout this period, as well as many variants.

On His Blindness by Milton, gives a sense of the Petrarchan rhyme scheme:

When I consider how my light is spent (A)
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide, (B)
And that one talent which is death to hide, (B)
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent (A)
To serve therewith my Maker, and present (A)
My true account, lest he returning chide; (B)
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?” (B)
I fondly ask; but Patience to prevent (A)
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need (C)
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best (D)
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state (E)
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed (C)
And post o’er land and ocean without rest; (D)
They also serve who only stand and wait.” (E)

18th-19th centuries

See also: English Romantic sonnets

The fashion for the sonnet went out with the Restoration, and hardly any were written between 1670 and the second half of the 18th century. Amongst the first to revive the form was Thomas Warton, who took Milton for his model. Around him at Oxford were grouped those associated with him in this revival, including John Codrington Bampfylde, William Lisle Bowles, Thomas Russell and Henry Headley, some of whom published small collections of sonnets alone. Among those who later acknowledged the impact of Bowles’ sonnets on them were Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey and Charles Lamb. And among the several other sonnet writers who were to constellate themselves about Warton’s group was Charlotte Smith, to whose Elegaic Sonnets (1784 onwards) William Wordsworth acknowledged a considerable debt.

Wordsworth himself wrote hundreds of sonnets, among the best-known of which are “Upon Westminster Bridge” and “The world is too much with us”. His “London, 1802” is addressed to Milton, on whose sonnets his own were essentially modelled. Later Romantic poets like Keats and Shelley also wrote major sonnets. Keats’s sonnets used formal and rhetorical patterns inspired partly by Shakespeare, while Shelley innovated radically, creating his own rhyme scheme for the sonnet “Ozymandias”. In her later years, Felicia Hemans took up the form in her series Sonnets Devotional and Memorial. Indeed, sonnets were written throughout the 19th century, but, apart from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese and the sonnets of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, there were few very successful traditional sonnets.

While the sonnet had now been adapted into a general-purpose form of great flexibility, by the end of the 19th century later writers had begun introducing their own variations. Modern Love (1862) by George Meredith is a collection of fifty 16-line sonnets about the failure of his first marriage. Several major sonnets by Gerard Manley Hopkins, such as “The Windhover”, were written in long-lined sprung rhythm, and he was also responsible for sonnet variants such as the 1012-line curtal sonnet “Pied Beauty” and the 24-line caudate sonnet “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire”. Hopkins’ poetry was, however, not published until 1918.

20th century

This flexibility was extended even further in the 20th century.

Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote the major sonnet “Leda and the Swan”, which uses half rhymes. Wilfred Owen’s sonnet “Anthem for Doomed Youth” is another sonnet of the early 20th century. W. H. Auden wrote two sonnet sequences and several other sonnets throughout his career, and widened the range of rhyme-schemes used considerably. Auden also wrote one of the first unrhymed sonnets in English, “The Secret Agent” (1928).

While living in Provence during the 1930s, Anglo-South African poet Roy Campbell documented the change in his views from sympathy for Mithraism to his ultimate conversion to Roman Catholicism in the Symbolist-inspired sonnet sequence Mithraic Emblems. Later, Campbell became a war poet and wrote other sonnets after witnessing the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War with his family in Toledo. Of these, the best are Hot RiflesChrist in UniformThe Alcazar Mined, and Toledo 1936.

Half-rhymed, unrhymed, and even unmetrical sonnets have been very popular since 1950; perhaps the best works in the genre are Seamus Heaney’s Glanmore Sonnets and Clearances, both of which use half rhymes, and Geoffrey Hill’s mid-period sequence “An Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture in England”. Without a doubt, the most ambitious sonnet project of the late 20th century is Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate (1986), a comic celebration of life in San Francisco in the early 1980s in nearly 600 sonnets (even the acknowledgements and table of contents are sonnets).

In American literature

The earliest American sonnet is David Humphreys’s 1776 sonnet “Addressed to my Friends at Yale College, on my Leaving them to join the Army”. The sonnet form was used widely thereafter, including by William Lloyd Garrison and William Cullen Bryant. Later, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and others followed suit. His were characterised by a “purple richness of diction” and by their use of material images to illustrate niceties of thought and emotion. He also translated several sonnets, including seven by Michelangelo. Later on, among Emma Lazarus’ many sonnets, perhaps the best-known is “The New Colossus” of 1883, which celebrates the Statue of Liberty and its role in welcoming immigrants to the New World.

In the 19th century, sonnets written by American poets began to be anthologised as such. They were included in a separate section in Leigh Hunt and S. Adams’ The Book of the Sonnet (London and Boston, 1867), which included an essay by Adams on “American Sonnets and Sonneteers” and a section devoted only to sonnets by American women. Later came William Sharp’s anthology of American Sonnets (1889) and Charles H. Crandall’s Representative sonnets by American poets, with an essay on the sonnet, its nature and history (Houghton Mifflin & Co., 1890). The essay also surveyed the whole history of the sonnet, including English examples and European examples in translation, in order to contextualise the American achievement.

In 1928, painter John Allan Wyeth published a modernistic sonnet sequence, This Man’s Army: A War in Fifty-Odd Sonnets, tracing his military service with the American Expeditionary Force during World War I. According to Dana Gioia, who wrote the introduction to the 2008 republication, Wyeth is the only American poet of the Great War who can stand comparison to British war poets, a claim corroborated by Jon Stallworthy in his review of the work. More than one hundred early sonnets written by John Berryman were published in 1967.

Recent scholarship has recovered many African American sonnets that were not anthologised in standard American poetry volumes. Important nineteenth and early twentieth century writers have included Paul Laurence Dunbar, Claude McKay, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, and Sterling A. Brown. Several African American women poets won prizes for volumes that included sonnets, such as Margaret Walker (Yale Poetry Series) Gwendolyn Brooks (Pulitzer Prize), Rita Dove (Pulitzer Prize), and Natasha Trethewey (Pulitzer Prize). Though Langston Hughes and Amiri Baraka were to question the appropriateness of the sonnet for Black poetry, both had published sonnets themselves.

In the introduction to the 2005 anthology Sonnets: 150 Contemporary Sonnets, William Baer noted how in the late 1960s a number of writers declared that the sonnet was dead, although many important poets – including Richard Wilbur, Howard Nemerov, Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Walker, and Anthony Hecht – continued to use the form and Robert Lowell chose to publish five books of unrhymed “American sonnets” at that period, including his Pulitzer Prize volume The Dolphin (1973). Between 1994 and 2017, the magazines The Formalist and then Measure supported the form by sponsoring the annual Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award for the best new sonnet.

In Canadian poetry

In Canada during the last decades of the 19th century, the Confederation Poets and especially Archibald Lampman were known for their sonnets, which were mainly on pastoral themes.

Canadian poet Seymour Mayne has published a few collections of word sonnets, and is one of the chief innovators of a form using a single word per line to capture its honed perception.

Slavic languages


The sonnet was introduced into Czech literature at the beginning of the 19th century. The first great Czech sonneteer was Ján Kollár, who wrote a cycle of sonnets named Slávy Dcera (The daughter of Sláva / The daughter of fame). While Kollár was Slovak, he was a supporter of Pan-Slavism and wrote in Czech, as he disagreed that Slovak should be a separate language. Kollár’s magnum opus was planned as a Slavic epic poem as great as Dante’s Divine Comedy. It consists of The Prelude written in quantitative hexameters, and sonnets. The number of poems increased in subsequent editions and came up to 645. The greatest Czech romantic poet, Karel Hynek Mácha also wrote many sonnets. In the second half of the 19th century Jaroslav Vrchlický published Sonety samotáře (Sonnets of a Solitudinarian). Another poet, who wrote many sonnets was Josef Svatopluk Machar. He published Čtyři knihy sonetů (The Four Books of Sonnets). In the 20th century Vítězslav Nezval wrote the cycle 100 sonetů zachránkyni věčného studenta Roberta Davida (One Hundred Sonnets for the Woman who Rescued Perpetual Student Robert David). After the Second World War the sonnet was the favourite form of Oldřich Vyhlídal. Czech poets use different metres for sonnets, Kollár and Mácha used decasyllables, Vrchlický iambic pentameter, Antonín Sova free verse, and Jiří Orten the Czech alexandrine. Ondřej Hanus wrote a monograph about Czech Sonnets in the first half of the twentieth century.


The sonnet was introduced into Polish literature in the 16th century by Jan Kochanowski, Mikołaj Sęp-Szarzyński and Sebastian Grabowiecki.

In 1826, Poland’s national poet, Adam Mickiewicz, wrote a sonnet sequence known as the Crimean Sonnets, after the Tsar sentenced him to internal exile in the Crimean Peninsula. Mickiewicz’s sonnet sequence focuses heavily on the culture and Islamic religion of the Crimean Tatars. The sequence was translated into English by Edna Worthley Underwood.


In the 18th century, after the westernizing reforms of Peter the Great, Russian poets (among others Alexander Sumarokov and Mikhail Kheraskov) began to experiment with sonnets, but the form was soon overtaken in popularity by the more flexible Onegin stanza. This was used by Alexander Pushkin for his novel in verse Eugene Onegin and has also been described as the ‘Onegin sonnet’, since it consists of fourteen lines. It is, however, aberrant in rhyme scheme and the number of stresses per line and is better described as having only a family resemblance to the sonnet. The form was adapted by other poets later, including by Mikhail Lermontov in his narrative of “The Tambov Treasurer’s Wife”.


In Slovenia the sonnet became a national verse form. The greatest Slovenian poet, France Prešeren, wrote many sonnets. His best known work worldwide is Sonetni venec (A Wreath of Sonnets), which is an example of crown of sonnets. Another work of his is the sequence Sonetje nesreče (Sonnets of Misfortune). In writing sonnets Prešeren was followed by many later poets. After the Second World War sonnets remained very popular. Slovenian poets write both traditional rhymed sonnets and modern ones, unrhymed, in free verse. Among them are Milan Jesih and Aleš Debeljak. The metre for sonnets in Slovenian poetry is iambic pentameter with feminine rhymes, based both on the Italian endecasillabo and German iambic pentameter.

Celtic languages

In Irish

Although sonnets had long been written in English by poets of Irish heritage such as Sir Aubrey de Vere, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, Tom Kettle, and Patrick Kavanagh, the sonnet form failed to enter Irish poetry in the Irish language. This changed, however, during the Gaelic revival when Dublin-born Liam Gógan (1891–1979) was dismissed from his post in the National Museum of Ireland and imprisoned at Frongoch internment camp following the Easter Rising. There he became the first poet to write sonnets in the Irish language.

In 2009, poet Muiris Sionóid published a complete translation of William Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets into Irish under the title Rotha Mór an Ghrá (“The Great Wheel of Love”). In an article about his translations, Sionóid wrote that Irish poetic forms are completely different from those of other languages and that both the sonnet form and the iambic pentameter line had long been considered “entirely unsuitable” for composing poetry in Irish. In his translations, Soinóid chose to closely reproduce Shakespeare’s rhyme scheme and rhythms while rendering into Irish.

Semitic languages

In Hebrew

As early as the beginning of the 14th century, in parallel with Petrarch, Immanuel the Roman wrote sonnets in Hebrew, making it the second language (after Italian) in which sonnets were written. In later centuries Italian Jews continued the tradition of sonnet writing in Hebrew.

Indian languages

In the Indian subcontinent, sonnets have been written in the Assamese, Bengali, Dogri, English, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Sindhi and Urdu languages.

In Urdu

Urdu poets, also influenced by English and other European poets, took to introducing the sonnet into Urdu poetry rather late. Azmatullah Khan (1887–1923) is believed to have introduced this format to Urdu literature in the very early part of the 20th century. The other renowned Urdu poets who wrote sonnets were Akhtar Junagarhi, Akhtar Sheerani, Noon Meem Rashid, Mehr Lal Soni Zia Fatehabadi, Salaam Machhalishahari and Wazir Agha.

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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