Sonnet- cell or sanctuary?

The sonnet form has origins from a multitude of backgrounds, taking new shape with each interpretation. However, its creation can be traced to Jacopo de Lentini of Sicily. He devised a fourteen line poem meant to be sung that combined one quatrain with the rhyming scheme abababab with another that uses the scheme cdecde. Later adopted was the pattern of abbaabba for the first quatrain and either cdecde, cdeedc, or ccddee for the following quatrain. The rhyming scheme for these versions of the sonnet depict “a poem whose ‘argument’ divides into two parts, a premise set out in the octave (first eight lines), with the sestet contradicting it, modifying it, or giving a concrete proof” (Hacker 299). William Wordsworth’s 1807 Italian Sonnet exemplifies the idea that the latter quatrain acts as concrete evidence for the theme presented in the former quatrain. The first lines of his piece show one’s contentment within a specific environment, as it was built for them. He describes that hermit crabs are content in their shells, just as bees are happy seeking pollen from a flower. The transition to the second half of the sonnet states “In truth the prison into which we doom ourselves, no prison is” (Hacker 304). Wordsworth emphasizes that one has control over how to define their given environment, and it is the individual’s choice to see it as a blessing or confinement. He even goes on to expand this notion to the sonnet form itself. The Sonnet’s defined guidelines may seem constricting to some, yet he sees it as a way to free himself from other forms that possess “the weight of too much liberty” (Hacker 304). The second quatrain acts as concrete evidence for Wordsworth’s argument that the Sonnet, like anything, is only constricting if we define it to be.

Hacker, Marilyn. “The Sonnet.” ​An Exaltation of Forms​: ​Contemporary Poets Celebrate the Diversity of Their Art​. Edited by Anne Finch and Kathrine Varnes. U of Michigan P, 2002, pp. 297–307.




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