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Annie Winkworth

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THE SONNET - The Universe in 14 Lines

Presentation by Annie Winkworth on 28th June 2014 to the FPAA Poetry Group.


R W Gilder, an American minor poet asked, What is a sonnet? And answering his own question, said:

               "'Tis a pearly shell

That murmurs of the far-off murmuring sea;

A precious jewel carved most curiously;

It is a little picture painted well.

What is a sonnet? 'Tis the tear that fell

From a great poet's ardent ecstasy;

A two-edged sword, a star, a song--ah, me!

Sometimes a heavy tolling funeral bell."

Before Shakespeare’s day, the word “sonnet” meant simply “little song” (from the Italian sonnetto), and the name could be applied to any short lyric poem. In Renaissance Italy and then in Elizabethan England, the sonnet became a fixed poetic form, consisting of 14 lines, usually iambic pentameter in English. Different types of sonnets evolved in the different languages of the poets writing them, variations in rhyme scheme and metrical pattern, but all sonnets have a two-part thematic structure, containing a problem and solution, or a question and answer, or a proposition and reinterpretation within their 14 lines and a volta or “turn” between the two parts.

The original form is the Italian or Petrarchan sonnet, in which the 14 lines are arranged in an octet (8 lines) rhyming abbaabba and a sestet (6 lines) rhyming either cdecde or cdcdcd.


This is an adaptation by Henry Howard (16thC poet) of a rime by Petrarch

The sweet season, that bud and bloom forth brings

With green hath clad the hill and eke the vale;

The nightingale with feathers new she sings;

And turtle to her make hath told her tale.

Summer is come, for every spray now springs;

The hart hath hung his old head on the pale;

The buck in brake his winter coat he flings;

The fishes fleet with new repairèd scale;

The adder all her slough away she slings;

The swift swallowpursueth the flies small;

The busy bee her honey now she mings;

Winter is worn that was the flowers' bale.

And thus I see among these pleasant things

Each care decays, and yet my sorrow springs.


Later came the English or Shakespearean sonnet, made of three quatrains rhyming ababcdcdefefand a closing rhymed heroic couplet. The Spenserian sonnet is a variation developed by Edmund Spenser in which the quatrains are linked by their rhyme scheme: ababbcbccdcdee.

Since its introduction into English in the 16th century, the 14-line sonnet form has remained relatively stable, proving itself a flexible container for all kinds of poetries, long enough that its images and symbols can carry detail rather than becoming cryptic or abstract, and short enough to require a distillation of poetic thought. For more extended poetic treatment of a single theme, some poets have written sonnet cycles (a series of sonnets on related concerns, often addressed to a single person) and sonnet crowns (a sonnet series linked by repeating the last line of one sonnet in the first line of the next, until the circle is closed by using the first line of the first sonnet as the last line of the last sonnet.

Shakespeare’s sonnets are written in a strict poetic form that was very popular during his lifetime. Broadly speaking, each sonnet engages images and sounds to present an argument to the reader.

The themes of the sonnetusually have two related but differing ideas. Each of the major types of sonnets accomplishes this in a somewhat different way.


Each quatrain should progress the poem as follows:

First quatrain: This should establish the subject of the sonnet.
Second quatrain: This should develop the sonnet’s theme.
Third quatrain: This should round off the sonnet’s theme.
Fourth quatrain: This should act as a conclusion to the sonnet.


A Shakespearian sonnet can be broken down into four sections called quatrains. The first three quatrains contain four lines each and use an alternating rhyme scheme. The final quatrain consists of just two lines which both rhyme and is usually epigrammatic.


Modern Sonnet on writing a sonnet by Remco van der Zwaag – a Dutch poet

The five foot meter: what is the big deal?
Ten syllables per line is what it takes,
"ta TUM" times five, that is the beat it makes.
Just write a few and you will get the feel.

This penta-thing, it has its own appeal,
Especially if from its swing you break
Away. Slight change will subtly make your bake
More tasty, spicy: practice it with zeal!

And somehow to the sonnet it belongs,
It gives a bronzen sound to all these songs
That suits the thoughts of pensive poets well.

Of this pentameter be not afraid.
Just practice it, and you will get your grade
And when you do, well then, come back and tell!


Back to the History

In the last decade of the 15thcentury, no other lyric form compared in popularity with the sonnet. Here England was still following in the footsteps of Italy and France; it has been estimated that in the course of the century over 300,000 sonnets were written in Western Europe. In England as elsewhere most of these poems were inevitably of mediocre quality and imitative in substance, often ringing the changes but using a minimum of ideas, often with the most extravagant use of conceits.

Petrarch's example was still commonly followed; the sonnets were generally composed in sequences (cycles) of a hundred or more, addressed to the poet's more or less imaginary cruel lady, though the note of manly independence introduced by Wyatt is frequent.

Sir Thomas Wyatt was a diplomat in the court of Henry 8th and who served at the coronation of Anne Boleyn and then witnessed her execution from a cell in the Tower of London. He had bee imprisoned for drunkenness and brawling – and also because he suspected of being one of her lovers! It was he, amongst others, who introduced the Italian sonnet form to English poetry by his translations of Petrarch. This is one of his poemwhich provides an example of a conceit in a Petrarchan (Italian) sonnet.



My galley chargèd with forgetfulness
Thorough sharp seas, in winter nights doth pass
'Tween rock and rock; and eke mine enemy, alas,
That is my lord, steereth with cruelness,

And every oar a thought in readiness,
As though that death were light in such a case.
An endless wind doth tear the sail apace
Offorcèd sighs and trusty fearfulness.

A rain of tears, a cloud of dark disdain,
Hath done the wearied cords great hinderance;
Wreathèd with error and eke with ignorance.
The stars be hid that led me to this pain.
Drownèd is reason that should me consort,
And I remain despairing of the port.

By far the finest of all the English sonnets are the best ones of Shakespeare's154, which were not published until 1609 but may have been mostly written before 1600. Their interpretation has long been hotly debated.

Some of them are occupied with urging a youth of high rank, Shakespeare's patron, who may have been either the Earl of Southampton or William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, to marry and perpetuate his race; others hint the story, real or imaginary, of Shakespeare's infatuation for a 'dark lady,' leading to bitter disillusion; and still others seem to be occasional expressions of devotion to other friends of one or the other sex.

Here as elsewhere Shakespeare's genius, at its best, is supreme over all rivals; the first recorded criticism speaks of the 'sugared sweetness' of his sonnets.

The 154 sonnets Shakespeare wrote exemplify his talent for compressed writing and depth of thought. Generally thought to be (at least to some degree) autobiographical, many are in the nature of generalities; a large number are addressed to a man, others to a "dark lady." The identity of these persons addressed has generated considerable controversy.


Sonnet 18 dedicated to Mr W H – who ever he was?

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 dimm'd;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimm'd;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;

Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou growest;

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.


This is Sonnet 29 – In my humble opinion you can never have too many Shakespearean sonnets. It is said by some critics to have been about Marlowe or even have written by him.


When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,

I all alone beweep my outcast state,

And trouble deaf Heaven with my bootless cries,

And look upon myself, and curse my fate,

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd,

Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least:

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,

Haply I think on thee,--and then my state

(Like to the lark at break of day arising

From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven's gate;

For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings

That then I scorn to change my state with kings'.


Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Century Sonnets

William Drummond (1585-1649), known as the "Scottish Petrarch" wrote many sonnets inspired by the tragic death of his fiancée on the eve of their wedding. His collection “Flowers of Sion” is considered to be the finest collection of 17thC Scottish Religious Poetry – of course I don’t know how many collections there actually are.

Sonneteers were mostly Men but Lady Mary Wroth(c.1586-1640), who was a niece of Philip Sidney, wrote a sequence of 83 sonnets and 19 songs that was included in her one published work, Urania.At the time this work was considered quite scandalous because of it’s allusions to affairs in the Jacobean court.


This sonnet is No 8 in the sequence

When night's black mantle could most darkness prove,
And sleep, death's Image, did my senses hire
From knowledge of myself, then thoughts did move
Swifter than those most swiftness need require:
In sleep, a chariot drawn by winged desire
I saw, where sat bright Venus, Queen of love,
And at her feet, her son, still adding fire
To burning hearts, which she did hold above;
But one heart flaming more than all the rest
The goddess held and put it to my breast.
"Dear son, now shut," said she, "Thus must we win";
He her obeyed and martyred my poor heart;
I, waking, hoped as dreams it would depart.
Yet since, O me, a lover have I been.


John Donne(c.1572-1631) had little patience for the conventions of secular love; he wrote with equal passion of romantic love and religious faith and employed the sonnet accordingly, with intensity and wit. Not only did he write beautiful and powerful religious sonnets and songs but his secular love songs are considered to some of the most erotic in the English language. This is one of his most popular sonnets.


Death, be not proud

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;

For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,

Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,

And soonest our best men with thee do go,

Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.

Thou'art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,

And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,

And poppy'or charms can make us sleep as well

And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?

One short sleep past, we wake eternally,

And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.


Another writer of religious sonnets was George Herbert(1593-1633) and like those of Donne, these come as a refreshing break from Elizabethan convention and subject matter.


PRAYER the Churches banquet, Angels age, 
Gods breath in man returning to his birth, 
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage, 
The Christian plummet sounding heaven and earth ; 

Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner's tower, 
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear, 
The six days world-transposing in an hour, 
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear ; 

Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss, 
Exalted Manna, gladness of the best, 
Heaven in ordinary, man well dressed, 
The milky way, the bird of Paradise, 

Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the souls blood, 
The land of spices, something understood. 


John Milton(1608-1674) presents a striking contrast to most earlier sonneteers; his often complex sentences challenge the English sonnet's traditional structure of three quatrains capped by a couplet. Also his subject matter was strikingly different, as were his titles!


To the Lord General Cromwell, on the Proposals of Certain Ministers at the Committee for the Propagation of the Gospel

Cromwell, our chief of men, who through a cloud

Not of war only, but detractions rude,

Guided by faith and matchless fortitude,

To peace and truth thy glorious way hast ploughed,

And on the neck of crowned Fortune proud

Hast reared God's trophies, and his work pursued,

While Darwen stream, with blood of Scots imbrued,

And Dunbar field, resounds thy praises loud,

And Worcester's laureate wreath: yet much remains

To conquer still; Peace hath her victories

No less renowned than War: new foes arise,

Threatening to bind our souls with secular chains.

Help us to save free conscience from the paw

Of hireling wolves, whose Gospel is their maw.


The early eighteenth century saw a decline in the sonnet's popularity, but there were the odd successes and attempts by poets who did not use the form very often.

English sonnets came to a low point in the later 18th century, when Samuel Johnson (one of my heroes) defined a sonnet as “a small poem” and a sonneteer as “a small poet, in contempt,”

The greatest sonnets are those which celebrate moments of vision and one of the greatest is one of Wordsworth’s which was written on the roof of a coach when he was on his way to France



EARTH has not anything to show more fair: 
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by 
A sight so touching in its majesty: 
This City now doth, like a garment, wear 
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare, 
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie 
Open unto the fields, and to the sky; 
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air. 
Never did sun more beautifully steep 
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill; 
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep! 
The river glideth at his own sweet will: 
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep; 
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

Here is another one written about my most favourite city!

London 1802 is a very good example of a Petrarchan sonnet. ABBA, BAAB, BA –CDDECE


Octave - Introduces the theme or problem

Milton! thoushouldst be living at this hour: - A

England hath need of thee: she is a fen - B

Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen, - B

Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower, - A

Have forfeited their ancient English dower - A

Of inward happiness. We are selfish men; - B

Oh! raise us up, return to us again; - B

And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power. - A

Sestet - Solves the problem

Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart; - C

Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea: - D

Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free, - D

So didst thou travel on life's common way, - E

In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart - C

The lowliest duties on herself did lay. -



19th Century

The form of the Sonnet began a revival in the 19th century. It was spearheaded by Romantic poets and they produced many fine examples. For instance


On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer by John Keats (1817)

    Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.


Another one by John Keats, written in 1838

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

Now I happen to like both of these poems (can you see a trend here!!) but some critics have considered that Keats turned to the Sonnet form in his later years when his genius had deserted him. A matter of taste I think.

Another one of my favourites – and by the way these have not been chosen JUST because they are my favourites but because they are examples of really good poems.

Shelley’s Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away". 

This poem is critically acclaimed as a poem of uncharacteristic power – possibly a case of being dammed by faint praise I think.

When the Romantic era turned into the Victorian(shades of Horrible Histories!) poets of sonnets turned their minds back to love and created quite a lot of sonnet sequences about the subject. It has be to said that most of them were not brilliant but one that was excellent was E B Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese

Sonnet 14 from Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850)

    If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love’s sake only. Do not say
“I love her for her smile—her look—her way
Of speaking gently,—for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day”—
For these things in themselves, Belovèd, may
Be changed, or change for thee,—and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry,—
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
Thou may’st love on, through love’s eternity.


New World

Of course it was not only in the Old World that sonnets were written and periodically flourished but also in America and Canada as well.

The first American sonnets were written by the Revolutionary War general David Humphreysin the last quarter of the 18th century and were not published until 1804. I haven’t been able to find an example of his work but he is noted in all the histories of the sonnet.

Some of the better known American sonneteers of mid-century were Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) (the Romantic link in the Sonnet Central chain), William Cullen Bryant (1794-1898), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882),John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), Jones Very (1813-1880), Frederick Goddard Tuckerman(1821-1873), and Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) who wrote a sonnet in praise of the statue of Liberty.


The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"


These last few lines were inscribes upon a plaque and attached to the Statue when it was dedicated in 1886.


An Englishman William Sharp, who in 1889 edited a book of American Sonnets, said of them

“It is, therefore, significant that in contemporary American verse, technically inferior to our own as, in the main, it undoubtedly is, the motives of the Transatlantic poets are far oftener more wide, more strenuous—in a word, worthier. No wave of national sentiment but perturbs the waters of verse; no heroic impulse, no calamity, no great national thrill, that does not immediately find an echo in song, and not here or there, but from Louisiana to Maine, and from Maine to the shores of Erie, from the Lakes to the Sierras, and from the remote mountains of the West to the Californian Gulf.”


An example of this national sentiment is:

William Cullan Bryant’s To an American Painter Departing for Europe

Thine eyes shall see the light of distant skies:

Yet, Cole! thy heart shall bear to Europe's strand

A living image of thy native land,

Such as on thy own glorious canvass lies.

Lone lakes--savannahs where the bison roves--

Rocks rich with summer garlands--solemn streams--

Skies, where the desert eagle wheels and screams--

Spring bloom and autumn blaze of boundless groves

Fair scenes shall greet thee where thou goest--fair,

But different--every where the trace of men,

Paths, homes, graves, ruins, from the lowest glen

To where life shrinks from the fierce Alpine air.

Gaze on them, till the tears shall dim thy sight,

But keep that earlier, wilder image bright.


Meanwhile back home on the ranch, in Britain poets were getting back to the sonnet and in particular the sonnet sequence


Thomas Hardy wrote a beautiful sonnet sequence in 1866She, to Him. This is the first one in the sequence. I recommend reading the sequence in its entirety.

When you shall see me in the toils of Time,

My lauded beauties carried off from me,

My eyes no longer stars as in their prime,

My name forgot of Maiden Fair and Free;

When, in your being, heart concedes to mind,

And judgment, though you scarce its process know,

Recalls the excellencies I once enshrined,

And you are irked that they have withered so;

Remembering mine the loss is, not the blame,

That Sportsman Time but rears his brood to kill,

Knowing me in my soul the very same

One who would die to spare you touch of ill!

Will you not grant to old affection's claim

The hand of friendship down Life's sunless hill?


Probably one of the greatest of the late Victorians was Gerard Manly Hopkins. He believed that the Italian sonnet, with its longer and heavier stressed lines, was more authentic than the English. He demonstrated this brilliantly with his poem


The Windhover - To Christ Our Lord

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing. 

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier! 

No wonder of it: shéerplód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.


At first I didn’t associate this poem with the sonnet form but if looked at carefully it does reallyfollow the rules.

An early 20thC poet,John Masefield – who bridged the 19th and 20th centuries - wrote a sonnet sequence in 1915 – again it is too long to read here but here is a flavour of it.


Sonnets (1915)

Long long ago, when all the glittering earth

Was heaven itself, when drunkards in the street

Were like mazed kings shaking at giving birth

To acts of war that sickle men like wheat,

When the white clover opened Paradise

And God lived in a cottage up the brook,

Beauty, you lifted up my sleeping eyes

And filled my heart with longing with a look;

And allhe day I searched but could not find

The beautiful dark-eyed who touched me there,

Delight in her made trouble in my mind,

She was within all Naure, everywhere,

The breath I breathed, the brook, the flower, the grass,

Were her, her word, her beauty, all she was.


Although Rupert Brooke's1914sonnets received an enthusiastic reception at the time of their publication and the author's death (of blood poisoning), disenchantment with the ever-lengthening war meant a backlash against Brooke's work. These sonnets have been lauded as being "among the supreme expressions of English patriotism and among the few notable poems produced by the Great War" (Houston Peterson), while according to Patrick Cruttwell, "I suspect that these unfortunate poems, through their great vogue at first and the bitter reaction against them later, did more than anything else to put the traditional sonnet virtually out of action for a generation or more of vital poetry in English."


The Soldier

IF I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by the suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

But some writers of the period adapted the sonnet to their war experience, and it is interesting to speculate on whether Brooke's writing would have become as bitter and disillusioned as that of his contemporaries had he lived a few years more.

One of those contemporaries was Charles Hamilton Sorley Born in Aberdeen, Scotland, and educated, like Siegfried Sassoon, at Marlborough College he was actually in Germany when war was declared. He was detained for an afternoon in Trier, but released on the same day and told to leave the country. He returned to England and volunteered for military service, joining the Suffolk Regiment, arriving at the Western Front in France as a lieutenant in May 1915, and quickly rising to the rank of captain at the age of twenty. Sorley was killed in action near Hulluch, where he was shot in the head by a sniper at the Battle of Loos on 13 October 1915.

Robert Graves, a contemporary of Sorley's, described him in his book Goodbye to All That as "one of the three poets of importance killed during the war". (The other two were Isaac Rosenberg and Wilfred Owen.) Sorley may be seen as a forerunner ofSassoonand Owen, and his unsentimental style stands in direct contrast to that ofBrooke.

Sorley's sole work was published posthumously in January 1916 and immediately became a critical success, with six editions printed that year. Sorley is regarded by some, including the Poet LaureateJohn Masefield, as the greatest loss of all the poets killed during the war. On November 11, 1985 Sorley was among 16 Great War poets commemorated on a slate stone unveiled in Westminster Abbey's Poet's Corner. The inscription on the stone was written by Wilfred Owen. It reads: "My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity."

This is his last poem and was found in his knapsack after he had been killed.


When you see millions of the mouthless dead

Across your dreams in pale battalions go,

Say not soft things as other men have said,

That you'll remember. For you need not so.

Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know

It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?

Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.

Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.

Say only this, 'They are dead.' Then add thereto,

'Yet many a better one has died before.'

Then, scanning all the o'ercrowded mass, should you

Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,

It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.

Great death has made all his for evermore.


May Herschel-Clarke(1850-1950) was an English poet. She is chiefly known today for her anti-war poems Nothing to Report and The Mother, the latter of which was published in 1917 as a direct response to another famous war poem.

If you should die, think only this of me

In that still quietness where is space for thought,

Where parting, loss and bloodshed shall not be,

And men may rest themselves and dream of nought:

That in some place a mystic mile away

One whom you loved has drained the bitter cup

Till there is nought to drink; has faced the day

Once more, and now, has raised the standard up.

And think, my son, with eyes grown clear and dry

She lives as though for ever in your sight,

Loving the things you loved, with heart aglow

For country, honour, truth, traditions high,

--Proud that you paid their price. And if some night

Her heart should break--well, lad, you will not know.


In the Twentieth century, particularly in recent years, the sonnet has come back into fashion, practiced by a large number of contemporary poets.

For instance Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) – her sonnets are rather peculiar in that they address modern concerns but are written with an almost Elizabethan sense of diction and syntax. The result is a sonnet that sounds "poetic" and somewhat old-fashioned. Despite this quirk, or perhaps because of it, many of her poems are distinctive and masterful.


Only until this cigarette is ended,
A little moment at the end of all,
While on the floor the quiet ashes fall,
And in the firelight to a lance extended,
Bizarrely with the jazzing music blended,
The broken shadow dances on the wall,
I will permit my memory to recall
The vision of you, by all my dreams attended.
And then, adieu,—farewell!—the dream is done.
Yours is a face of which I can forget
The colour and the features, every one,
The words not ever, and the smiles not yet;
But in your day this moment is the sun
Upon a hill, after the sun has set.


W H Auden had always been an experimentalist in verse and he delighted in the sonnet form for its own sake. The challenge which the sonnet offered him was not because of its technical difficulties but more of rescuing it from the kind of subject matter and range of tones it had become involved in. For instance he wrote his sonnets as commentaries on public affairs or famous men.


Who's Who

A shilling life will give you all the facts: 
How Father beat him, how he ran away, 
What were the struggles of his youth, what acts 
Made him the greatest figure of his day; 
Of how he fought, fished, hunted, worked all night, 
Though giddy, climbed new mountains; named a sea; 
Some of the last researchers even write 
Love made him weep his pints like you and me. 

With all his honours on, he sighed for one 
Who, say astonished critics, lived at home; 
Did little jobs about the house with skill 
And nothing else; could whistle; would sit still 
Or potter round the garden; answered some
Of his long marvellous letters but kept none


Edward Lear

Left by his friend to breakfast alone on the white
Italian shore, his Terrible Demon arose
Over his shoulder; he wept to himself in the night,
A dirty landscape-painter who hated his nose.

The legions of cruel inquisitive They
Were so many and big like dogs: he was upset
By Germans and boats; affection was miles away:
But guided by tears he successfully reached his Regret.

How prodigious the welcome was. Flowers took his hat
And bore him off to introduce him to the tongs;
The demon's false nose made the table laugh; a cat
Soon had him waltzing madly, let him squeeze her hand;
Words pushed him to the piano to sing comic songs;

And children swarmed to him like settlers. He became a land


Acquainted with the Night by Robert Frost isa wonderful example of a sonnet but more important than that it is a beautiful and powerful poem.


I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain -- and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
A luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night. 


Finally we come to the 21st Century and if you look on the Internet there are many websites that show examples of all sorts of 14 liners as they are called. I shall collate some website addresses and send an email with them all.


One such form is the Free Form Sonnet.

The free-form sonnet is usually 14 lines in length (like the traditional English sonnet) ie 12 lines and a couplet that is précis/summary of the thought/theme of the foregoing twelve).Each line in the free-form variation has the SAME number of syllables in each line. The number may 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10 even as in the traditional form. The free-form sonnet may rhyme throughout or in part OR MAY NOT actually rhyme at all.

To seek and never find, life
-the tragedy of living;
To see and never find, love
-the tragedy of being;
To seek and never find, faith
-the tragedy of after-life;
To live and never find, art-
to live life without seeing;
To live life sans poetry,
with one-dimensional sight,
without imagination-
life exists in black and white.

Believe, emote and desire
too soon, this life expires.




Winging It by Mary Wight

Nuzzling mohair, 
seeking a nipple, 
soft-boned legs bend 
as claws snag on wool 
that is warm enough, mother enough; 
young cat taking comfort 
where it finds it.

She slides her hand, 
burrows stiff fingers 
near its soft form, 
feels the heart’s quiver, 
sighs, closes her eyes, recalls a child 
praying by a window 
for angel wings.



The Sonnet is alive and well, spanning the gamut from the strictly traditional to the experimental, at times barely recognizable but for the line count. Some examples only have one word per line!

Thank you for listening and I hope you have enjoyed this presentation on the Sonnet but more importantly it has encouraged you to read more of them and perhaps try your hand at writing one or three. Thank you.




by Annie Winkworth This is the mother lode of all poetry sites. Not only can you read and download loads of poems but you can also publish your own poetry on the site. It is American, but then a lot of the best sites are. - The site for the Academy of American Poets. It has 1000’s of poems and 100’s of poets on the site and most are accessible to download. It also features a poem of the day which you can sign up for and they will send you a random poem to read. - This is a website for all you poets to publish your own poems and have others critique them. - This is a UK site and is the website for the Poetry Library situated in the Southbank Centre. It claims to house the most comprehensive and accessible collection of modern poetry (from 1912) in Britain. It does not have actual poems for download but what it does have is links to sites that do. - An online library of poems categorized by subject and poet. It does have some adverts on the site but they can be ignored and more importantly the poems can be downloaded. The poems are arranged by themes and did you know that there is a poem about a Hippopotamus and not the Flanders and Swan one either! It’s called Hunting the Hippopotamus, by Isaac McLellanand although not in the Keats or Wordsworth category it’s not bad. - A site that lists not only poems but essays about poetry – some very quirky but also fascinating to read and browse through. Beware you could spends hours reading this stuff. - The project of Great Works is that of publishing innovative poetry in modernist/postmodernist modes. This is a site for innovative writing: modernist, postmodernist, archaic. It proclaims the need to let a thousand flowers bloom, and rejects any single definition of what writing is. It welcomes alternative poetries and other writing. It proudly offers no retrieval of coherence at a higher interpretative level. (This is a quote from the site!) -Introduction to Contemporary British Innovative Poetry.

This site contains many links that explain and give examples of new British Poetry. - I am a great fan of Wikipedia (with the usual caveats about authenticity etc) – It does provide a quick and dirty introduction to allsorts of subjects – even some I’d never heard of. This article provides an easy intro plus what is more important lots of links to other sites. – this is one of those odd sites that one comes across and can’t quite believe it. It is about Sound Poetry or Mouth Music .

Sound poetry began with the dawning of language itself. Tribal chantings, group wailings, rhythmic mumblings in celebration of gods and victories. These were the pre-literate verbalisings that are actually claimed as a common source by all poetries. Through the centuries they became mantras, meditational repetitions, sonic meaninglessness: Try this – Om Amkharaomom.Or this – ababraabrakakrakaabrakalabrakalabrakalabrakaabraabrabcadarrab era abaracadabara. Recognise them? Of course you do. In Babylonian times spells like these were installed in the corners of houses as traps for demons. The text was written in the shape of an inward turning spiral. The demon, only ever able to read in one direction, would follow the spell in its irresistible progression and end trapped, hard in the centre. The first ever visual poetry.And one with a purpose. What is poetry for? For catching the dark things at the back of our heads and fixing them for all to see.

Well it is different. I use to listen to Poetry & Jazz when I was a young woman and it reminds me of that experience. Anyway try it out and see what you think. - A site stuffed full of info on all things poetic. Especially in the UK and bang up to date. It is also the site of the Poetry Review which allows some downloads of poems and essays without having to take out a subscription or register. - A list of various poetry magazines websites - very useful to check them out before subscribing. Home of ARTEMISpoetry which aims to be a showcase for the best in women’s writing from established and new women poets. – it does what it says on the tin. Poems (and other writings) that have been published in the Guardian. Useful for those of us who have stopped reading the Guardian – or at least buying it! – check this page out – it is a hoot. Michael Solomon may just have invented a new form of poetry. - The Poetry Archive is a treasure-trove of English-language poets reading their own work. Some are historic recordings, some have been made specially for the Archive - which means its range is the widest possible: from Tennyson at the end of the c19, through poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Langston Hughes in the middle of the c20, to contemporary poets including Seamus Heaney, Ruth Padel and Kathleen Jamie. On this page, you'll find information about who to look for in the Archive, and how to find them, as well as information about how to discover - by theme or region or guided tour - poets whose work you may not yet know. - This is a glossary of poetic terms


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