Sonnets (Being Technical?)


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Thread: Sonnets (Being Technical?)

  1. #1

    Sonnets (Being Technical?)

    I've been wondering about this for some time. When I was younger, we were taught that a sonnet is a short poem of 14 lines with a particular rhyme-scheme.

    Now I'm doing my Bachelor's in the English Language, and this time we went further: that a sonnet has a particular meter as well (iambic pentameter), and the last two lines take a turn - they contain a thought different from the former 12 lines.


    I'd written a few poems before. They are of 14 lines with the rhyme-scheme, but they don't follow that particular meter. The last two lines are stronger and more passionate than the previous 12 lines (I hope), but they don't take a turn.


    I've become disappointed after I learnt this. Can I call my poems sonnets?
    "The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream. The oak sleeps in the acorn, the bird waits in the egg, and in the highest vision of the soul a waking angel stirs. Dreams are the seedlings of realities." ~ James Allen

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  2. #2
    Banned Martin's Avatar
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    I'd say you can call them nontraditional sonnets! In the end it's up to you, how many rules and guidelines you want to stick to. I personally care mostly for good and quality work, rather than technical achievements. A proper sonnet however, should be something in its own right (following all those rules you mentioned), otherwise the defining label would lose its meaning...

  3. #3
    They call it the volta, and I don't think it has to come in the last couplet necessarily, I think it can turn at the end of the second quatrain, so you have eight lines posing one point of view and six the other.
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  4. #4
    Yeah, the end for the second quatrain would be for the Italian sonnets, I suppose. So to label a poem a sonnet, you have to follow the guidelines. Saying it loud here makes me think clearer. Thanks.
    "The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream. The oak sleeps in the acorn, the bird waits in the egg, and in the highest vision of the soul a waking angel stirs. Dreams are the seedlings of realities." ~ James Allen

    "Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best." ~ Henry Van Dyke

  5. #5
    It's often the way that putting something in words clarifies and crystallises it, when you get a new writing principle it is a good idea to use it straight away even if what you are writing doesn't lead anywhere immediately.
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    WF Veteran Nick's Avatar
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    A lot of sonnets have the final rhyming couplet either answer a question presented/implied, or simply sum up the subject of the sonnet in a very satisfying way when you read. Traditionally, they do take a turn, but so many modern sonnets stray very far from the traditional guidelines - every sonnet I've read by well-published poets in the last 10 years has deviated from iambic pentameter many times, and at least one line has strayed from the rhyme.
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  7. #7
    I don't like it when people stray. I know it sounds old-fashioned, but the traditional ones were better.
    "The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream. The oak sleeps in the acorn, the bird waits in the egg, and in the highest vision of the soul a waking angel stirs. Dreams are the seedlings of realities." ~ James Allen

    "Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best." ~ Henry Van Dyke

  8. #8
    WF Veteran Bachelorette's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by candid petunia View Post
    I don't like it when people stray. I know it sounds old-fashioned, but the traditional ones were better.
    Yeah, that's interesting. If people stray, can it still really be called a sonnet? Doesn't it then become something else? I mean, a writer can write a fourteen-line poem and call it a sonnet, but if it's not a sonnet in the minds of his/her readers, is it still a sonnet? Which has more weight, the writer's intent, or the reader's reaction? And if they are both equally valid, isn't that a paradox? A poem is and is not a sonnet, depending on who's reading it? I think that's part of what makes poetry so exciting, the way you can't really define it, because as soon as you try to define it, you limit what can and cannot be a poem, and I happen to believe that there are no limits in poetry besides what the one reading or writing it may impose upon it... but since any limit can be imposed, then anything can be poetry...

    I'm not really helping, am I?

  9. #9
    Hahahha! Its ok. It somehow answers the question... poetry cannot be defined​ I guess.
    "The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream. The oak sleeps in the acorn, the bird waits in the egg, and in the highest vision of the soul a waking angel stirs. Dreams are the seedlings of realities." ~ James Allen

    "Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best." ~ Henry Van Dyke

  10. #10
    ‘Iambic pentameter’ describes the basic structure in which something is written. The basic metre of the poem provides a basis, a bit like the base drum providing the steady beat in music, that does not necessarily mean that the drum is actually present during the whole piece, there will be delicate passages where it is not there at all. Similarly something written in the basic verse pattern will not all be in iambic feet, or even in pentameters necessarily.

    It is not only modern verse that strays from the basic patterns, Perfect regularity sounds quite boring, the sort of women’s magazine poetry that you could tap out a monotonous rhythm to, ker-bonk, ker-bonk. The ‘irregularity’ is not a failure or an error, it accentuates the meaning.

    For example the famous speech from Hamlet has the verse pattern of iambic pentameter, but take the line “To be or not to be, that is the question”, Hamlet’s problem is whether to live or die, and that shows where the stresses should lie, to recite it with the stress on the ‘be, not, be, is, qu,’ syllables would sound ridiculous, it has to be on ‘be, not, that, qu’; and the last word has at least one extra syllable on the end (Elizabethans may well have separated qu-est-i-on.). Not only that but the stress is not equal all through, the strongest stress comes on the inverted fourth foot.

    Similarly when Romeo finds the ‘dead’ Juliet and resolves to kill himself he finishes,
    "From this world wearied flesh. Eyes look your last!"
    The fourth foot has a double stress, making the line solemn and emphasising his resolve.

    This is not irregularity in the sense of getting it wrong, it is irregularity which emphasises the important concepts in the line or the state of mind of the person speaking it. Perfect regularity, in the sense of each foot and each line being identical, would be a considerable defect in any poem, but in good poetry the irregularities perform a function.
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