A-Z: General definitions: Sonnet


A sonnet is a poem with a special structure. It has fourteen lines, which are organised in a particular manner, usually characterised by the pattern of rhyming, which changes as the ideas in the poem evolve. Sonnets originated in Italy in the 14th century, and are called Petrarchan sonnets after the famous poet, Petrarch; these are divided into an octet (8 lines), usually rhyming abba abba, and a sestet (6 lines) rhyming cde cde. The ideas in the octet change or develop in the sestet, and this change is called a 'volta' or leap. Shakespeare developed the sonnet form, organising his into three groups of four lines (rhyming abab, cdcd, efef) and ending with a rhyming couplet (gg) which often twists, or gives a new attitude to, the thoughts developed in the rest of the sonnet. Later writers have further adapted both the sonnet form and its rhyme scheme.

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