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after having given a definite phase of his subject, before he presented it in a new and brighter light. The pauses were thus a logical part of the plan to show a theme unfolding in a clear, yet prescribed way; they were not used merely for the sake of pause, or just to make the poem appear neater, but as transition that would render the logic more apparent. Moreover, the rigid rhyme scheme aided this use of pause in the careful blocking out of thought. The quatrains, abba a b b a, were alike and held together by the repeating a, yet kept apart by the definite unity of pattern in each; thus emphasizing the separation and the similarity of statement and proof. The confirmation and conclusion, however, must be still further set apart by a new rhyme scheme, neither reproducing nor suggesting the succession of sounds in the quatrain; the new scheme did not, indeed, admit any of the rhyming letters allowed in the quatrains, and it prescribed another and different arrangement of rhymes. The favorite order of the sestet was, c d ecde or cdcdcd; but
е here much license was allowed in the placing of rhymes. The rhyming of the last two lines was in general avoided; both Dante and Petrarch in a few instances tried this closing rhyme, but evidently considered it unsuitable because it would divide the lines from the rest of the sonnet and give them a peculiar significance that might detract from the perfect unity of the whole.
The aim and desire of the great Italian writers was that the sonnet should close leaving the reader with the sense of finish and completeness, with the feeling of having been given the thought in its full relation and also its final result. It must not, therefore, work up steadily from the first line to a climax at the last line, for then no conclusion or consequence was possible; nor must it be developed through twelve lines, to be finished off with an epigrammatic turn of thought in the last two lines, since this was merely to startle or surprise the mind of the reader.
No feeble or obscure line could be allowed to stand, and no important word should be used twice, unless such repetition were necessary for some peculiar effect. The utmost econINTRODUCTION
omy must be practiced, if the poet was to present his thought entire and in a convincing, satisfying manner. Such were the exacting laws which the greatest Italian poets sought to follow in their efforts to create a perfect sonnet.
This does not mean that the laws were absolute and that the poets made no experiments, but comparatively few irregular sonnets from the well-known writers remain to testify the search for another form. Out of 327 written by Petrarch, 310 follow the quatrain rhyme scheme as given above, and 301 conform to either the first or the second plan for the sestet.
Our earliest writers, Wyatt and Surrey, accepted the dictum of the Italians as far as number of lines and of feet to the line, but experimented with rhyme. Wyatt almost always follows Petrarch in the octave; the sestet he closes with a rhymed couplet. Surrey was less easily satisfied on the delicate subject of rhyme; he never employs the Italian rhyme scheme, but usually has three quatrains in alternate rhyme with a couplet at the close, or he uses six alternate rhymes with one of these forming the closing couplet; sometimes again a new rhyme appears in the last two lines. These two pioneers consistently employed the closing couplet, which shows that they either had not grasped the relation of rhyme to thought in the Italian scheme, or considered another arrangement better adapted to the English language.
Since the century of Wyatt and Surrey, the best of our English poets have established by use the canon of fourteen five-stress lines as essential to the sonnet; they have made still further experiments with rhyme. Many combinations and variations of rhyme schemes have been tried. Three clear types have, however, predominated: that modeled on the form of Petrarch, the octave abba a b b a, and two or three new rhymes variously arranged in the sestet; that devised by Surrey, but usually called after Shakespeare since his sonnets are the most famous composed in this form, ababcdcdefefg g; and that contrived by Spenser, ab ab bcbccdcdee, which has had fewer followers than the other
two and at present is not often used. The English sonnet composed on one of these patterns may, then, have four, five, six, or seven rhymes, but of these three prevailing types there have been and are still many modifications. For example: Shelley's Ozymandias, Hallam's Written in Edinburgh, Dobell's The Army Surgeon, and Rupert Brooke's The Soldier. Since, however, the sonnet is a poem deriving part of its charm and power from the fact that the form is conventional and familiar to the ear of the reader, no one of these erratic rhyme schemes has found many followers. The modern sonnet remains, with few exceptions, loyal to the scheme of Petrarch or to that of Shakespeare."
As far as the manner of developing the thought is concerned we have three distinct methods in English. The sonnet may, as the Petrarchian sonnet usually does, begin and grow to a climax at the end of the eighth line, closing quietly through the following six lines in a natural sequence of thought; secondly, it may be presented by three different statements of the idea, which is the way Shakespeare builds his sonnets, and close with a two-line application, conclusion, or proof; or, lastly, the thought may run over from the octave into the sestet, and the break come, if there is any break at all, later in the poem. Milton was the first to construct sonnets according to this third plan; Wordsworth and later poets very often follow his example. Whichever scheme is adopted, rhyme and pause should be used to interpret and support the plan of thought development, and in the best sonnets this is always the case. But the English poets, loving to play with this little musical instrument of the sonnet, have experimented as often in ways of unfolding the thought as in the manner of arranging the rhymes.
The complexity of the sonnet form would lead one to suppose a long period of experimentation before the laws were evolved, settled, and accepted by poets as a convention not INTRODUCTION
1 For the reason of this loyalty, see the discussion by Watts in Encyclopædia Britannica (9th edition), vol. XXII, p. 262.
to be violated. Although this was in all probability the case, there is a very incomplete record of such tentative feeling after form. Among the earliest known examples occur those with the same number of lines and of feet to the line, as well as something of the same rhyme and pause scheme, as are found in the sonnet at the height of its popularity. Its origin, then, becomes a matter for the labor, or the skillful guessing, of the scholar, a question still of much controversy and of apparently impossible solution. Several theories have been advanced, each having its supporters among students of Italian literature.
Some hold that the sonnet is a development of the Greek epigram.However, the more commonly defended theories are: first, that the Italian singers borrowed the form, or something approximate to it, from the Provençal troubadours, 2 and this thesis has been warmly supported, especially by the French critics; secondly, that the sonnet came to birth in Italy itself or at least in Sicily.3 Those who contend that Sicily is to be accorded the fame of creating this form of poem argue that the poets evolved it by working upon Arabic models at the court of William II of Sicily (1166–89), whose devotion to Arab literature made his court a center of that study, and that it continued to flourish at the court of his successor, Frederick II (1189–1250). Other critics are as firmly convinced that Tuscany or central Italy should have the honor, but they divide themselves into two camps as regards the source poem out of which the sonnet grew. The one group attempt to show that it resulted from a combination of two short love-lyrics, called strombotti; 4 the octave was originally the eight-line strombotto, rhyming abababab and the sestet the six-line strombotto with rhyme, cdcdcd. These two the poets combined, varying the line and changing four feet to five, and thus produced the sonnet. The
1 William Sharp, Sonnets of the Nineteenth Century, p. XXXI.
9 Sidney Lee, Elizabethan Sonnets (London, 1904), vol. I, p. xiii. M. Louis de Vayrieres, Monographie du Sonnet (Paris, 1869).
: Francesco Trucchi, Poesie italiane (Prato, 1846), pp. xxvi-xxx. Heinrich Welti, Geschichte des Sonnettes (Leipzig, 1884), pp. 1-54.
• Tommaso Casini, Le Forme metriche italiana (Firenze, 1890), pp. 35–38. Charles Tomlinson, The Sonnet (London, 1874), pp. 7-29.
other group hold that it was modeled on one of the stanzas of a love-song, called a canzone. These popular songs were constructed in many ways; one of the forms frequently used may have been the source of the sonnet, as the lines of the stanza were fourteen and the rhyme scheme similar to that later used by the sonnetteers. For example, the stanzas of a canzone by Guittone d'Arezzo rhyme abba abba accadd. The octave is here ready-made in form, and the sestet suffers only change of rhyme. There are strong arguments for, as well as against, both the Italian and the Provençal origin of the sonnet, but no critic has as yet adduced convincing proof to establish the claims of either country.
Practically all critics are agreed, whatever theory of origin they hold, that the earliest known writers were Ludovico della Vernaccia (about 1200), Giacomo da Lentino (about 1210), and Piero delle Vigne (1181?-1249); and that Guittone d'Arezzo (1220–94) was the first poet who composed a sonnet in the form later approved and accepted by the Italian writers. The sonnet rapidly became popular in Italy, was used with great skill by Dante, and brought to the height of its perfection by Petrarch.
Whatever its origin in land or poem, Pattison is certainly right when he says, “The sonnet — both thing and name comes to us from the Italian.” 2 And it came not by accident or unconscious imitation, but brought by the poets Thomas Wyatt (1503-1642) and the Earl of Surrey (1515–47), with the definite purpose of introducing it into England. They had traveled in Italy and fallen under the spell of Petrarch; returning to England, they set about a reform of English literature. Puttenham tells us: “They greatly polished our rude and homely maner of vulgar Poesie, from that it had been before, and for that cause may justly be said the first reformers of our English metre and stile.” 3 The low estate of English poetry is clear when such rough lines and poor rhymes as those of Wyatt were onsidered a reforma
1 Mary Bowen, Influence of Petrarch upon the Elizabethan Sonnet. Unpublished Thesis.
2 Mark Pattison, The Sonnets of John Milton (London, 1883). 8 Arber Reprints (London, 1869), vol. 7, p. 74.