What is Italian sonnet poem

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The sonnet is a fourteen-line poem with a clear structure. You can find out what features it has in our article.

Here you come directly to the video!

  • in the text
  • in the text
  • in the text
  • Tenzone and sonnet wreath
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  • Sonnet example - Gryphius ‘tears of the fatherland
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  • Sonnet example - Goethe's nature and art
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  • Sonnet example - Rilke's spring has returned
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  • in the text

What is a sonnet?

Sonnet is a form of poetry that became very popular in the Baroque era. Its fourteen verses are divided into four stanzas: the first two stanzas consist of four verses (Quartets) and the following two stanzas from three verses (Trios).

Different rhyme schemes and meters are used depending on the literary epoch. The meter is usually alternating. This means that increases and decreases alternate regularly.

The sonnet (Latin sonare = to sound, Italian sonetto) is a form of poetry with a strict construction. It consists of two stanzas with four verses each (quartets) and two stanzas with three verses each (terzets).

Sonnet structure

The sonnet is therefore above all through his outer shape Are defined. But also in terms of content, a certain structure can be seen in the stanzas. In the next two sections we will explain exactly how the sonnet is structured.

Sonnet form

The sonnet has developed in different directions over time. What they all have in common is the strict formal structure.

A meter that is particularly common in sonnets is five-lever iambus. In the baroque, however, is still that Alexandrians typically, an iambus with six notations.

In the two quartets come often hugging rhymes (abba) used. The rhyme scheme in the following two thirds, on the other hand, is very different.

Sonnet example

On the baroque poem It is all vain from Andreas Gryphius you can recognize some of the mentioned features:

∪       –∪    –∪       –  |   ∪     –∪   –∪     –∪
aYou see where you look, only vanity on earth.
∪      –∪       –∪      –  | ∪      –∪       –∪       –
bWhat they are building today will tear them down tomorrow:
∪     – ∪         –∪       –     |     ∪      –∪      –∪     –
bWhere there are still cities, there will be a
∪     –∪           –∪     – |   ∪         –∪     –∪        – ∪
aon the a shepherd's child will play with the herds.

∪       –∪         –∪         –  |   ∪        –∪       –∪      –∪
aWhat is still blooming should be trodden on soon.
∪       –∪       –∪        –    |  ∪     –∪        –∪        –
bWhat is now and defies, tomorrow is ashes and legs,
∪         –∪     –∪     – |    ∪      –∪           –∪      –
bthere is nothing that is everlasting, no ore, no marble stone.
∪       –∪         –∪     – | ∪        –∪       – ∪          –∪
aNow happiness laughs at you, soon the complaints thunder.

∪     –∪        –∪        –   |  ∪         –∪         –∪      –
cThe high deeds of glory must pass like a dream.
∪       –∪        –∪      –  |   ∪     –∪         –∪      –
cShould the game of time, the light man, exist?
∪       –∪    –∪    –   |  ∪        –∪      –∪       – ∪
dOh! What is this that we consider delicious

∪            –∪     –∪    –   |   ∪          –∪          –∪       – 
eas bad nothingness, as shadow, dust and wind;
∪     –∪       –∪      –   |  ∪       –∪        –∪       –
eas a meadow flower that you won't find again?
∪         –∪      –∪    – |  ∪     –∪           –∪     –∪
dStill, what ever is, does not want to look at a single person!

The meter is the Alexandrian. This is a six-lever iambus (six times unstressed / stressed). The usual length of the verse is therefore 12 syllables. In some places the verse ends on an unstressed 13th syllable. Then you name the verse catalectical and the cadence, so the emphasis on the dispatch, feminine.

You can find more information about the cadences in this article.

The first two stanzas (quartets) show an embracing rhyme (abba). In contrast, in the two thirds the rhyme scheme is ccd - eed. The typical structure of a sonnet looks like this: abba - abba - ccd - eed.

There are other variants for the trio. The quartets remain the same:

  • abba - abba - cdc - dcd
  • abba - abba - cde - cde
  • abba - abba - ccd - dee
  • abba - abba - eef - if necessary

In addition, the following rhyme schemes also occur occasionally:

  • abba - cddc - eef - if necessary
  • abba - cddc - efg - efg
  • abba - cddc - efe - fef

Sonnet content

In terms of content, a certain scheme can also be recognized in the sonnet: In Italian sonnets, there is one in the quartets thesis, that is, assertion. Then follows in the thirds Antithesis. This can be a comparison or a counter-assertion, for example.

In the German Baroque sonnets this comparison often occurs within a verse. Let's look again at Andreas Gryphius ‘poem It is all vain at:

You see where you look | only vanity on earth.
What he is building today | that morning tears down.
Where now there are still cities |will be a meadow
on which a shepherd child | will play with the flocks.

The is suitable for these antitheses Alexandrians especially good with the pause in the middle of the verse (caesura). Gryphius uses such opposites in verses 2 and 3 of, for example It is all vain: That which still blooms during lifetime is destroyed by transience. This divides the verse in terms of content and also metrically in two halves.

Sonnet story

The sonnet originated in Italy in the first half of the 13th century. Is considered the founder of the poem form Francesco Petrarch. At that time the meter was composed of eleven syllables, so-called endecasyllabi.

At the beginning of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century, the sonnet found numerous imitators all over Europe. The most important representative of the poem form was at the time William Shakespeare with his Shakespeare sonnets.

In France, instead of the eleven silver, the Alexandrians by. The verses then no longer consisted of 11 syllables, but 12 or 13 syllables.

The sonnet then became very popular in the German baroque period. Martin Opitz, an important baroque poet, declared the Alexandrian to be the typical meter of the sonnet.

For a long time afterwards, the sonnet hardly played a role in German poetry. First Gottfried August Bürger rediscovered this form of poetry in 1789. His student August Wilhelm Schlegel made the sonnet known again - in Romanticism. Instead of the Alexandrian, however, the five-lever iambus was used.

Important German sonnet poets of the following period included:

  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Weimar Classic)
  • Rainer Maria Rilke (symbolism)
  • Georg Heym (Expressionism)
  • Georg Trakl (Expressionism)

Tenzone and sonnet wreath

Poets often put their sonnets together in a collection. In this context you speak of Sonnet cycles. The most important species include the tenzone and the sonnet wreath:

Under the Tenzone do you understand some form of controversial poem. So in this poem there are two people with opposing opinions. They explain their position in the form of sonnets. In doing so, the poets usually take up individual verses of their competitor.

At the Sonnet wreath The structure of the sonnets is much stricter: Fourteen individual sonnets are followed by a master sonnet. Each individual sonnet repeats the last verse of the preceding sonnet in its first verse. Together, the last verses of the individual sonnet make up the fifteenth master sonnet.

Sonnet example - Gryphius ‘ Tears of the fatherland

a We are whole now | yes more than completely devastated!
b The cheeky crowd of peoples, | the raging trumpet ‘.
b the sword fat with blood,| the thundering cardoon ‘*
a everyone has sweat and hard work| and supplies used up.

a The towers are glowing| the church ‘is reversed.
b The town hall is in horror, | the strong are disheveled
b the virgins are violated, | and wherever we look
a is fire, plague and death,| that passes through the heart and mind.

c Here through the Schanz and city | Fresh blood is always running.
c Three times are already six years ‘,| as our rivers flood
d heavy with so many corpses | slowly advanced.

e But I still keep silent about | what worse than death
e something worse than the plague | and embers and famine,
d the treasure of souls| forced from so many.

* a Kartaune is a gun from the 15th / 16th centuries. Century.

The poem Tears of the fatherland was written in 1636. In it, the Baroque poet Gryphius accuses the destruction and suffering in Germany caused by the 30 years war originated.

As in his poem It is all vain Andreas Gryphius strictly follows the classical structure of the sonnet. He uses the Alexandrians (six-lever iambus) with a caesura in the middle of the verse. The rhyme scheme of the quartets and trios is: abba abba ccd eed. In the example, the pairs of rhymes are each marked with the same color.

Sonnet example - Goethe's Nature and art

a Nature and art, they seem to be fleeing each other
b and have found each other before you think of it;
b the reluctance has disappeared from me too,
a and they both seem to attract me the same way.

a It is only a sincere effort that counts!
b And if we only, in measured hours,
b bound us to art with spirit and diligence,
a may free nature glow again in the heart.

c That's how it is with all education.
d In vain become unbound spirits
e strive for the perfection of pure height.

c If you want big things, you have to pull yourself together.
d Only in the limitation does the master show himself,
e and only the law can give us freedom.

Goethe's poem Nature and art is a typical example of a sonnet from the Weimar Classic period, published in 1800. The typical characteristics of the sonnet can also be recognized here:

  • This poem is also made up of two Quartets and two Trios built up.
  • The verses consist of continuous eleven syllables. The meter is - as is typical for meter and time - a five-part iambus (∪ -).
  • The two quartets form an embracing rhyme. There is one in the second stanza impure rhyme before: The words “endeavor” and “glow” differ somewhat from the rhymes “flee” and “to attract” from verse 1. The thirds, on the other hand, have a regular rhyme scheme: cde cde.

Sonnet example - Rilkes Spring has come again

a Spring has come again. The earth
b is like a child who knows poetry;
a many, oh many ... For the complaint
b long learning she gets the prize.

c Her teacher was strict, we liked the white
d on the old man's beard.
c Well, what the name of the green, the blue,
d may we ask, she can do it, she can do it.

e Earth that has free play
f now with the children. We want to catch you
G happy earth. The happiest succeeds.

e O what the teacher taught her, the many,
f and what is printed is in roots and long
G difficult tribes: she sings it, she sings it.

You can see from the example that the sonnet has evolved over the centuries. Not much is left of the originally strict form of the sonnet.

Rilke also uses quartets and trios here. But the verses differ greatly in length, which Number of syllables so is not uniform. At the beginning of the poem it is already noticeable that the typical embracing rhyme (abba) through a cross rhyme (abab) was replaced. That too meter is not regular.


We have clearly summarized the most important features of the sonnet here:

  • Emergence: 13th century in Italy, spread in Germany during the Baroque period (16th / 17th century)
  • well-known sonnet poets: Francesco Petrarca, William Shakespeare, Martin Opitz, Andreas Gryphius, Gottfried August Bürger, August Wilhelm Schlegl
  • formal structure: two quartets (four verses each) and two thirds (three verses each), a total of 14 verses
  • content structure: often many opposites (antitheses) within a verse or between the individual stanzas
  • meter: alternating (alternately unstressed / accentuated), Alexandrians in the Baroque, five-lever iambus from the Romantic period. Verses are made up of 12 or 13 syllables.
  • cadence: if an unstressed 13th syllable is added, female cadence, otherwise male cadence
  • Rhyme scheme: embracing rhyme in the quartets (abba), different rhymes in the terzets

The sonnet is just one of many forms of poetry. So that you are well prepared for your poem analysis, take a look at our overview of the poem forms!