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Primary Types of Sonnets: Shakespearean, Spenserian and Petrarchan

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 The three poetic genres under analysis in this essay will be the sonnet, the elegy and the ode. This essay will be focusing on the way the poets adhere and break away from the standard norms of a particular genre. This essay will also feature an examination of the way they employ different poetic techniques to get across the message of the poem. The three chosen poems for this essay are the sonnet: ‘Whoso list to hunt I knowe where is a hind’ by Thomas Wyatt , the elegy ‘In Memory of W.B. Yeats’ by W.H.Auden , and the ode ‘Ode to the West Wind’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

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The genre of the sonnet comprises of three primary types: Shakespearean, Spenserian and Petrarchan. ‘Whoso list to hunt I knowe where is a Hynde’ by Thomas Wyatt is a Petrarchan sonnet. It is made up of fourteen lines containing both an octet and a sestet. Traditionally in a Petrarchan sonnet, the octet comprising of eight lines presents the reader with the problem while in the six lines of the sestet there is a resolution to the issue. Wyatt’s poem conforms to this structure, as in the octet we are made aware of his problem of not being with the woman he loves, and in the sestet, he explains why that is.

The opening line of the poem poses a question to the reader. In doing this, it personally engages the reader from the offset, thereby capturing their interest. Line two of the poem further evokes the reader’s curiosity as he states he is unable to hunt this deer anymore, leaving the reader to question why. The poet uses this hunting metaphor to illustrate the courtship of a ‘hind’, female. This metaphor creates a vivid image of his pursuit of this woman he loves. The use of assonance in ‘vain travail’ is used to emphasise the poet’s dejection at the former realisation his pursuit of this woman is futile. This theme of unrequited love complies with the tradition of Petrarchan sonnets, which explore this theme. Wyatt’s use of enjambment and caesura in lines six and seven display the lasting impact and distress which losing the hope of winning his love had on the poet. This impact is seen as well in his deviation from the meter of the poem. Wyatt, for the most part, writes this poem in the meter of iambic pentameter. Line seven, however, does not conform to the metrical scheme of iambic pentameter. Instead, it employs a trochee at the start as the stressed syllable at the start of ‘Fainting’ shows the speakers imbalance after the loss of hope to get the woman he loves as it differs from the steady beat of five beats starting with unstressed syllables. The spondee in the line sticks out, stressing the poets choice to stop the pursuit of his love. Again, in line eight, Wyatt uses the device of the metaphor to make sure the hopelessness of the pursuit is made clear: ‘Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind'(Wyatt 80). The use of the word net draws back to the metaphor of hunting while the word wind is a metaphor in itself to show the wildness of the deer. The turn in line nine shows again that Wyatt is sticking with the traditional volta that usually appears in nine-line of a Petrarchan sonnet, and signals the change in tone and theme. The volta sets the reader up to discover that the deer belongs to Caesar. This historical reference is smart, as it is a universally known figure. The reader can instantly understand why the poet is unable to purse the woman as going after the woman of a king is foolish and dangerous. The reference from the bible ‘Noli me tangere'( Wyatt 80) further serves to demonstrate the exclusivity and purity of the woman, as no man but a king can touch her. The rhyming scheme of the poem is which is very similar to the traditional Petrarchan sonnet with the rhyming scheme of.

Wyatt, throughout his poem, sticks to the traditional form, meter and theme of a Petrarchan sonnet written in English, while also using many poetic devices such as assonance, metaphors, enjambment, caesura and historical references to show the agony of his unrequited love for the kings ‘hind’.

The genre of the elegy traditionally is a serious poem that honours the passing of a loved or admired person. ‘In Memory of W.B. Yeats’ by W. H. Auden, conforms but also strays from this idea. The poem is more an elegy to the poetry of Yeats, rather than the man himself.The poem also voices Auden’s concerns about the problems the world faces in the present day, the power Yeat’s poetry and poetry in general lacks and has with dealing with these issues.The opening line plays on the reader’s curiosity. Auden’s use of the verb ‘disappeared’ arouses our attention, as it goes against our expectations for an elegy. We expect to hear of the person’s death not the mystery of their whereabouts.

Auden uses personification to bring more weight to the impact Yeat’s death had on the world ‘mercury sank…dying day’. Auden again purposefully uses adjectives that typically describe human activities to describe animal activities in the second stanza – referring to the fact that nature and humanity are going on as usual even after his passing. This point is the first indicator that Auden does not intend to adhere to the idealised notion elegies have for the dead.

Auden reduces the description of Yeat’s passing as ‘rumours,’  positioning his death as something we cannot share with him, but only hear about after it happens. His use of the contemporary setting of a hospital places a common touch on his passing. This description turns away from the usual impact felt of a dead person in an elegy.

Auden’s uses a metaphor to describe how Yeat’s poetry will be kept alive in memory through those who read it ‘The current of his feeling failed he became his admirers.’  Auden uses a striking image to convey how the legacy of Yeats will be ‘modified in the guts of the living,’ of which Yeats has no control. This idea again differs from the traditional idea that the legacy of a past one is that of greatness that cannot be disputed.

The lines 28-29 again push against the standard philosophy of the traditional elegy. The idea that, on the day of Yeats death, someone would ‘think of a day when one did something slightly unusual,’ and not of Yeats, goes against the concept of the world grieving for the loss of an icon. Auden’s repetition of line five and six at the end of section one emphasises humanity’s hardship at measuring the death of a person. The clinical measurements of temperature and light cannot measure the loss of life. Auden here returns to the traditional take of an elegy by not being able to fathom the impact of Yeat’s death but soon returns to his unbiased approach in the second section.Yeat’s character is not glorified and his impact on the world not embellished. He is stating that ‘poetry makes nothing’ (Auden 929), implying that Yeat’s political idea and thoughts did not have a tangible impact on the world that could be pointed too.

The three major conventions of a traditional elegy are detailing grief for the loss of the dead, praise for the idealised dead and, in the end, consolation and solace. Although Auden’s elegy did not grieve the loss of Yeats, the person and did not idealise his character, Auden does, however, conforms to the traditional ending of an elegy. He offers the consolation that a world can still be built on the unique realistic, but appreciative perspective yeats poetry has for the world. The form of the last section conforms to a traditional form of a typical elegy would have. It is comprised of six quatrains of rhyming couplets with the rhyming scheme of AABB. This format is a stark contrast to the free verse in the first section and the unrhymed hexameter in the second.An ode is a lyrically complex formal poem that often celebrates either nature, a place, idea or thing. Traditionally, odes are divided into three parts strophe, antistrophe and an epode. The strophe introduces one idea while the antistrophe contradicts that point which the epode, in the end, combines those points.

Shelly’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’ fits with this structure. In the strophe, the poet describes the wind’s control over the land, sea and air. The antistrophe is written in the first person where he asks the wind for its power to give him its ability to spread his ideas. In the epode, the poet comes to the happy realisation that even if it’s bleak winter and he does not have the power of the wind, springtime is not far away.

Shelly employs a variety of poetic devices to bring the wind to life with his abundant use of alliteration as it appears in line one, five, six, seven, nine, thirteen and fourteen in the first stanza alone. His vast range of metaphors from his comparison of seeds to flying creatures in line seven to his use of interesting similes in his liking of thoughts to withered leaves in line sixty-two and sixty-three. The poet sticks with the traditional format of an ode the poem is primarily written in iambic pentameter although some of the lines are catalexis.

All three of the poetic genres discussed in this essay have a history a particular set of format and conventions. From the elegies history of lamenting the dead to the sonnets thematic exploration of unrequited love, poets writing in these particular genres often choose which conventions to break away from or embrace.  

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