Sonetto, meaning little song had its birth in Italy at the hands of Giacomo da Lentini. It was not long before it entered English shores with Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard. As with all poetic forms, the time has twirled and nicked this form here and there. Traditionally dealing with the theme of love, sonnets offered poets or sonneteers as they are referred to in this case, a vehicle to carry, ruminate and find a resolution to their dilemmas.
From Petrarch to Shakespeare, Milton to Hopkins, sonnets were the ideal form to deliberate on subjects that tormented or clouded the sonneteers’ mind. The pangs of unrequited love, the beauty that be-spelled or the overwhelming faith, sonnets have always intricately woven these themes in its fold. Composed of 14 lines, the Italian sonnets had an octave and sestet with volta, meaning a turn of thought that happened usually in the ninth line. However, Shakespeare, a popular sonneteer did away with all this convention and craved his own sets of rules onto this poetic form. In his hands, the sonnet was divided into three quatrains and a closing couplet. With regard to volta, that was also subject to his whims, sometimes occurring in the ninth line and more often than not, in the closing couplet.
The charm and the richness of Shakespearean sonnets are undeniable. From Sonnet 18 ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’ to Sonnet 130 “My mistresses eyes are nothing like the sun”, the figurative language used to decorate his thoughts are simple and borrowed from the nature around him. For instance, in Sonnet 130 dedicated to his mistress (from the Dark lady sequence) he says,
“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare”
He borrows metaphors from nature again in Sonnet 18 when he compares the beauty of his of his love to nature,
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee”
Like Wordsworth’s Lucy poems, Shakespeare’s sonnets are love melodies that do not consciously strive to overachieve its simplicity. This is also a characteristic that commonly adorns the poetic form, Sonnets. Sonnets do not deliberately set out to impress, it is the very nature of the subject that prompts the sonneteers to colour words with imageries with the sole purpose of expression.
About the Author : A wanderer at heart, Vibhuthi is the author of Rainbow, an anthology of poems that was published in 2009 by Nishaganti Publication