Hello Poetry Lovers!
Here’s hoping everyone is recovering from the Holidays and getting inspired to write! Our next Poetry meetup is Saturday January 19th. This month’s prompt is calling for a VILLANELLE or a SONNETT (see definitions below). We will be meeting at Carol Haake’s home in Dog Town (South City).
Social Hour will begin at 6:30 p.m. with Poetry to begin promptly at 7:30 p.m. We’ll be meeting in Dog Town, South City at the home of Carol Haake. This is a private residence, and so the exact address will not be posted publicly on the site. Instead we will send the address via email on the day prior to the meeting to all members who RSVPed “YES”. Please get those RSVPs in as soon as possible so you will be sure of getting the directions. Otherwise you must email or phone me directly. If I have enough time, I’ll check up until I leave for the poetry meetup.
We will have our typical ‘Grazing Table’ set up, so feel free to bring a snack or beverage to share.
As always, the writing prompt is completely optional. If the assignment does not inspire you then please just bring whatever you’re currently working on, something old you haven’t read in a while, the work of another poet you enjoy, or just come to listen. We just want to hear and share poetry, so it’s all good!
By Bob Holman & Margery Snyder, About.com Guides
The word “villanelle” comes from the Italian villano (“peasant”), and a villanelle was originally a dance-song sung by a Renaissance troubadour, with a pastoral or rustic theme and no particular form. The modern form with its alternating refrain lines took shape after Jean Passerat’s famous 16th century villanelle, “J’ai perdu ma tourtourelle” (“I Have Lost My Turtle Dove”).
Passerat’s poem is the only known example of the villanelle form before it was taken up and brought into English in the late 19th century. In 1877, Edmund Gosse spelled out the strict 19-line shape of the form in an article for the Cornhill Magazine, “A Plea For Certain Exotic Forms of Verse,” and a year later Austin Dobson published a similar essay, “A Note on Some Foreign Forms of Verse,” in W. Davenport Adams’ Latter-Day Lyrics. Both men wrote villanelles, examples of which are in our library (see the list below). But it was not until the 20th century that the villanelle truly flowered in English poetry, with Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night” published at mid-century, Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” in the 1970’s, and many more fine villanelles written by the New Formalists in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
The villanelle’s 19 lines form five triplets and a quatrain, using only two rhymes throughout the whole form. The entire first line is repeated as lines 6, 12 and 18 and the third line is repeated as lines 9, 15 and 19—so that the lines which frame the first triplet weave through the poem like refrains in a traditional song, and together form the end of the concluding stanza. With these repeating lines represented as A1 and A2 (because they rhyme together), the entire scheme is:
We have collected a number of early English villanelles in our library here at About Poetry:
• “When I Saw You Last, Rose” by Austin Dobson (1877)
• “Wouldst Thou Not Be Content To Die” by Edmund Gosse (1877)
• “Theocritus, A Villanelle” by Oscar Wilde (1881)
• “Villanelle of Change” by Edwin Arlington Robinson (1891)
• “The House on the Hill” by Edwin Arlington Robinson (1894)
• “Pan: a Double Villanelle” by Oscar Wilde (1913)
• Stephen Daedalus’ “Villanelle of the Temptress” by James Joyce (from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, 1915)
Definition of A Sonnet
The word sonnet comes from the Italian word “sonetto” which means “little song”.
A sonnet has come to be known generally as a poem containing fourteen lines of iambic pentameter.
Traditionally, sonnets have been classified into groups based on the ryhme scheme. William Shakespeare wrote his sonnets to rhyme: abab cdcd efef gg. Sonnets which follow this rhyme scheme are called Shakespearean Sonnets. There are also Petrarchan and Spenserian Sonnets which are based on rhyme schemes used by Edmund Spenser and Francesco Petrarca respectively.
Sonnets also generally contain a volta, or turn. This is a subtle device used to distract the reader from the monotonous beat of the iambic pentameter. When you turn from a set direction while driving, you may only veer a little to the left or right. You may turn 90 degrees right or left. Or, you may do a 180 degree u-turn. Likewise, the volta may be a subtle shift or a complete reversal of direction. Writers have used various devices to indicate the turn as well as placing the turn in different places. The Shakespearean Sonnet generally places the volta after the eighth line.
The Petrarchan or Italian sonnet is named for the 14th century Italian poet Francesco Petrarch who popularized the sonnet form.
The petrarchan sonnet has a set rhyme scheme. The first eight lines, or octet, rhyme as follows:
The last six lines, or sestet, can have various rhyme schemes.
The beginning of the sestet marks the volta, or turn in the sonnet. The sestet is often viewed as the solution to a problem posed in the octet.
A Shakespearean sonnet is written in iambic pentameter, which means that each line is 10 syllables long. The rhythm of each line should be like this:
All sonnets have fourteen lines. A Shakespearean sonnet rhymes like this:
Line 1 rhymes with line 3
Line 2 rhymes with line 4
Line 3 rhymes with line 1
Line 4 rhymes with line 2
Line 5 rhymes with line 7
Line 6 rhymes with line 8
Line 7 rhymes with line 5
Line 8 rhymes with line 6
Line 9 rhymes with line 11
Line 10 rhymes with line 12
Line 11 rhymes with line 9
Line 12 rhymes with line 10
Line 13 rhymes with line 14
Line 14 rhymes with line 13
Last, most sonnets have a volta, or a turning point. In a Shakespearean sonnet the volta usually begins at line 9.
An easy example of a turning point would be, lines 1-8 ask a question or series of questions and lines 9-14 answer the question or questions.
The Modern Sonnet
Although the traditional sonnet follows a strict form consisting of fourteen lines of iambic pentameter, many writers from the 20th century to the present day have sought to expand the sonnet form by “loosening” some of the requirements of the traditional sonnet.
These “modern sonnets” are typically still short, lyric poems in the spirit of the traditional sonnet. So, the name sonnet, which means “little song” can still be said to apply to them. However, not all short, lyric poems are sonnets, modern or traditional.
How then, do we identify the modern sonnet?
Generally, modern sonnet writers attempt to keep some of the traditional sonnet forms while abandoning others. The most common modern sonnet is a fourteen lined lyric poem that does not employ iambic pentameter or a set rhyme scheme.
Other modern sonnets might use ten or twelve lines of iambic pentameter instead of fourteen. Often these “shortened” sonnets will still follow a set rhyme scheme or contain a distinct volta.
Blank verse sonnets might also be considered modern. A blank verse sonnet employs iambic pentameter, but does not rhyme.
I find it useful to think of a sonnet as a house. Traditionally a house has windows, doors, a roof and walls. But, what if a house of the future found it could do without doors or windows? What if the roof or walls could be replaced by some sort of energy field? Would it still be recognizable as a house? It might seem strange at first, but after living in it for a while, you would probably come to think of it as a house just the same.
Try “living” in a modern sonnet for a while. If it starts to feel like a sonnet to you, then it probably is one. At least you should be able to make a good argument for it in your poetry class!
One way I like to “live” in a sonnet is to give it the “out loud test.” Sonnets, being lyrical in nature, were meant to be read out loud. A sonnet that doesn’t sound good out loud to me is probably not really worthy of the title of sonnet. Of course this is a very subjective test, but subjectivity is a big part of interpreting poetry.