at use contrasting approaches to the same genre, foregrounding specific details of language, poetic convention and technique.
Thisessay will focus on thesonnet and its sub-genres.Three different sonnets will be analysed:”Alas, so all things nowe doe holde their peace” by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey,”Leave me o Love, which reachest but to dust”by Sir Philip Sidney and”Sonnet. Written in the Church-yard at Middleton in Sussex”by Charlotte Smith.The essaywill provide informationon the three sonnetsand at the same timehighlight contrasting techniques to the style,structure and themes of the sonnet as a genre. It will alsopoint out thedifferences and analogiesnoticed whenthe sonnets are compared to oneanother and to the three canonical models, Petrarchan, Shakespearean and Spenserian.
The sonnet was born in Italy and reached its best thanks to Francesco Petrarchwhoused to write shortpoems of 14 lines about Laura, the ladyhe was in love with.In fact, the main themein sonnetsis usually love, especially when it is complicated or frustrated or disappointed.It is determined by rules and conventions and follows the tradition of the genre.
The first sonnet by Henry Howard follows the Shakespearean model rather than the Spenserian one not only because it is divided in four stanzas, three of which are quatrains characterised by alternate rhyme while the last stanza is composed by a rhyming couplet, but also because the rhyme scheme is closer to the typical Shakespearean one. It has to be said that this poem repeats the same sounds of the alternate rhyme throughout the three quatrains so that the rhyme scheme is ABAB ABAB ABAB CC, which is slightly different from Shakespeare’s ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.
Henry Howard was one of the most representative literary figures of the Renaissance. One of the typical features of the Renaissance is the admiration and the revival of classical art and culture.For exampleAlcman’s”Nocturne” is an explicative example of the poems Howard may have been inspired by.
However, for the themes analysed in the second half of the sonnet, this poem can be regarded as a solid base for Romanticism. It is evident that the themes it deals with are not just the contact with nature and the contemplation of it, but it also describes the feelings evoked in the poet:”For my swete thoughtes sometyme doe pleasure bring”(Howard 90).In this sonnet there is a shift from an outer state (nature being quiet and asleep) to an inner one (pain and agony of the author). The two main elements are clearly in contrast; in fact the sorrow and worries described by the poet in the last verses are contrasted to the complete calm of the nature:”When I thinke what griefe it is againe to live and lack the thing should ridde my paine”(Howard 90).
The second sonnet”Leave me o Love, which reachest but to dust”was written by Sir Philip Sidney. Like Howard’s one it is composed of three quartets and a rhyming couplet. The rhyme schemeisABAB CDCD EFEF DD, which means the poet adopted an alternate rhyme for the quartets. The closest model to this poem would be theShakespearean sonnet, even though instead of the final couplet going GG it rhymes with the sixth and eighth lines (“be”, “see”, “see”, “me”).
Light is a recurring theme throughout the whole poem. It is mentioned in most of the stanzas and can be considered a metaphor for life. Amongst the themes that can be found in this poem the most evident ones are love and relationships, which are often complicated. When Love is mentioned, it is always spelled with the capital L, which implies a personification of the feeling itself and stresses its importance.”Leave me o Love, “, “EtternalLove maintaine thy life in me”(Sidney 153).
One of the most popular classical themes is time and brevity of life. Major authors such as Catullus and Seneca wrote about that, and it is mentioned a few times in the sonnet. For example:”In this small course which birth drawes out to death”(Sidney 153). Another interesting feature is that the sonnet’s title is simply “Sonnet 32”. Instead of giving a proper title to his piece of work, the poet simply numbers his poems, like Catullus, Sappho and other classical authors used to do. This kind of choice is usually intentional and instead of creating expectation with the title and “forcing” the reader to focus on any suggestion it may give, it leaves the themes of the poem free to come alive in the reader’s mind.
Charlotte Smith’s”Sonnet. Written in theChurch-yard at Middleton in Sussex”presentsa different rhyme scheme from the two previous sonnets: the enclosed rhyme ABBA CDDC ECCE is kept throughout the three quatrains with the rhyming couplet (FF) closing. This style seems to be a hybrid one since on one hand the stanzas structure is typically Shakespearean and Spenserian, but on the other hand the enclosed rhyme in the quatrains was often used by Petrarch, even though Smith makes an atypical use of it. Alternatively it can be considered a whole new kind of sub-genre since it does notmatch perfectly with any of the canonical ones.
The sonnet mainly focuses on natural elements, and water is the most recurring one amongst them: in fact tides, sea, tears, waves and finally water itself are mentioned throughout the poem. It is noticeable how accurate this poem is since its structure tends to reflect the content. For example the rhythm of the interlocking rhyme reminds the reader of the waves, especially when the sonnet is read aloud.
Natural elements such as the stormbecomea metaphor, in its case,for life:”While I am doomed – by life’s long storm oppressed”.Another good example could be the first line:”Pressed by the Moon, mutearbitress of tides”(Smith 527). The Moon is spelled with a capital M and the name is feminine as specified by the apposition “arbitress”. However, since Smith herself was a feminist, discussing the implications of the feminisation of the moon would be and far too long and unnecessary.
Only the last couplet concerns the feelings evoked by such elements in the author:”While I am doomed, by life’s long storm oppressed, to gaze with envy on their gloomy rest”(Smith 527).Clearly the view did notmake the poetess feel good, but the contemplation of nature and its powerevoked the feeling of sublime in her. When she says”their”she isreferring to natural elements, and by”gaze with envy”she means she got caught in that process that makes feel human beings insignificant when looking at natural forces or elements. This is one of the most popular themes of Romanticism, the artistic trend Smith identified with.
It is interesting how these three sonnets present similar features to one another. It is less surprising for the Howard’s and Sydney’s since they both belong tothe Renaissance period, but it is definitely something worth reflecting on when it comes to Smith’s. Natural elements seem to be a constant feature in sonnets, but they convey different meanings depending on the author.Feelings and natural phenomena and/or elements are often personified and cometo life asprotagonists of the sonnet. Sometimes they reflect the inner state of the poet and some other times they are in contrast with it.WhenHoward, Sydney and Smithexpresstheir emotions, they areusually negative ones.
On a stylistic point of view,every author adopted different approaches. Even though the stanzas structure is the same for all of them (three quatrains and a rhyming couplet), they used different rhyme schemes. Sometimes they adapted the rhyme scheme to the content of the poem, like Smith didusing the enclosed rhyme, while some other times it was used to confera specificrhythm and musicality to the sonnet. The alternate rhyme seems to bea more popular choice since it is easier to use and spot in the Englishlanguage.Metaphors and personifications are the most employed rhetorical figures.
The language adopted in these sonnets is always elevated and accurate.However, belonging to the Renaissance period Howard and Sydneyused Middle English while Smith’s language is closer to Modern English.
To conclude, it is clear that different approaches can be used when writing a sonnet, in terms of structure of the stanzas, rhyme scheme and themes. Some authors choose to follow the rules and conventions of the genre while some othersdeviate from them. This does not meanthatthere is a right and a wrongapproach to the composition of a sonnet sinceit is up to the poet to strictly follow the canonical sub-genres or experiment and come up with brand new featuresand ideas.Therefore the quality of a sonnet cannot be defined by its affinitywith the main models.Different techniques keep the genre diverse andinteresting for the reader. It is no wonder that the sonnet is one of the most popular genres and poets from different erasdealt with it in so many different ways.
Keegan, Paul (Ed.)The Penguin Book of English Verse.London: Penguin. 2004. Print.
N.B.This essay was written without any help from English native speakers. Not being amother tongue myself, I apologize for any grammar/ syntax/ vocabulary error or vagueness.