The noun “invention,” – stemming from the Latin word; invenire and inventio- indicates a sense of creative license that is withheld by writers, in any form of literature. However definitively, “invention” also implies fabrication and fictionalisation, within poetry and sonnet writing, the poet my use a sense of fabrication to engage the reader, for example through atmosphere and emotive metaphors. Whilst on the other hand, “convention”, could be, “a usual or accepted way of behaviour,” or perhaps “a common way of showing something in art or writing,”- artistic convention. This could be the structural tendencies and expectations of a Petrarchan sonnet, as these expectations would differ greatly to a Shakespearean sonnet. The focus of this essay surrounds the discussion as to whether, a sonnet is a form predicated on invention as much as on convention or whether it is heavily weighted on one side of the debate.
The sonnet, being one of the most respected poetic forms in the English language, originated in Italy. The form that is of this focus, is the Petrarchan sonnet- commonly known as the Italian sonnet. Named after the 14th century poet, Francesco Petrarca, the 14-line poem that’s’ key characteristics would be the iambic pentameter combined with a malleable rhyme scheme. The first octave of a Petrarchan sonnet consistently follows the same rhyme scheme of: abbaabba. The way in which the rhyme scheme becomes flexible would be after the Volta within the sestet – these schemes, they differ in each sonnet. However, a few of the most common would be; cdecde,cdcdcd- and these rhyme schemes are just a snippet of the possibilities within a Petrarchan sestet. A sonnet that follows this conventional structure would be the poem, “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus.
“’Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, (a)
With conquering limbs astride from land to land; (b)
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand (b)
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame (a)
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name (a)
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand (b)
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command (b)
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. (a)
‘Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she (c)
With silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor, (d)
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, (c)
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. (d)
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, (c)
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’ (d)
The fact that this poem, which in 1903 was engraved on a plaque on the lower level of the Statue of Liberty, this well-known poem- embodies the key elements of a Petrarchan sonnet. This is highly portrayed through the conventional journey. The first octave introducing a form of question, idea or problem which then evolves throughout the last six lines/sestet, where a solution and new perspective is provided. The turn of this poem is in the Volta, where the poem divides from abstract and vivid imagery of the stature, to the conclusion of the personification of the statue- this gaining a new perspective, in the eyes of the Statue as it speaks.
Another sonnet, of which is more contemporary would be “The Professor” by Joshua Mehigan.
“’I get there early and I find a chair. (a)
I squeeze my plastic cup of wine. I nod. (b)
I maladroitly eat a pretzel rod (b)
and second an opinion I don’t share. (a)
I think: whatever else I am, I’m there. (a)
Afterwards, I escape across the quad (b)
into fresh air, alone again, thank god. (b)
Nobody cares. They’re quite right not to care. (a)
I can’t go home. Even my family (c)
is thoroughly contemptuous of me. (c)
I look bad. I’m exactly how I look. (d)
These days I never read, but no one does, (e)
and, anyhow, I proved how smart I was. (e)
Everything I know is from a book.’ (d)”
It is key to notice that the language is modernised and easier to comprehend than in traditional Petrarchan sonnets, such as “The New Colossus,” and yet the poem still engulfs and manipulates the stylistic and structural components that are traditionally used. The octave, “abbaabba” rhythmic manner, enlightening the reader of the interactions with others within his work environment. The Volta being exaggerated within the octave and sestet, by having a physical break- rather than a punctuation indicated break or an emotion change. This physical break coherently breaks the conventional expectations of a Petrarchan sonnet, as it is expected to have a perspective change indicated through a change in narrative voice or punctuation i.e. semi colon or a hyphen, such as Francesco Petrarca’s –“Those Eyes, ‘neath Which My Passionate Rapture Rose” where the break is indicated by a hyphen.
Alongside this, Mehigan uses an unusual rhyme scheme of “ccdeed”, which turn the readers attention to the character’s proving of self-worth to others, particularly regarding his family and to himself. This unusual scheme could metaphorically indicate how unusual it would be to recover from such depression, which is implied within the first octave, in such a short period of time as the schemes combined quickened the pace of the poem and allowed it to progress further. Conclusively, the conventions of the Petrarchan sonnet are difficult to break, however the modernisation of such conventions have enabled and empowered writers to invent their own schemes as to have the greatest amount of impact on the reader, whether it be emotionally or intellectually.
Another form of poetry/sonnet would the Shakespearean sonnet. The sonnet is not simply Shakespearean because Shakespeare wrote the sonnet; it become such a style when the “correct” structure and techniques that mirror the original style. The traditional Shakespearean sonnet is broken down into three key indicators- It is made up of three quatrains, one conclusive couplet and uses iambic pentameter- Shakespeare’s sonnets are not always aligned with accurate pentameter, the technique that is highly used within his sonnets would be metrical substitution; this occurs when Shakespeare embeds a variety of meters such as trochaic. This to prevent the sonnet from being too idealistic, and is more relatable to the reader, as human dialogue is not spoken in perfect meter.
Traditionally Shakespeare’s sonnets praise his lover’s in a multitude of ways, their physicality, worth and wit, almost making them appear Goddess-like, for example Sonnet 73, that compares the love that he has for someone to that of “glowing of such fire” and is “consumed” by her.
“Sonnet 73: That time of year thou mayst in me behold
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.”
However, Sonnet 130 speaks substantially different to his other works, being much melancholier and sarcastic than others, using hyperbole to exaggerate his metaphor of comparison. Instead of comparing his love to something she is, he is comparing his love to something that she is not. Conventionally, the works would be direct and upfront, however this piece evokes the idea that love in not really unattractive, and he does not hate her for who she is but is drawn to her by her imperfections; this being inventive as to avoid the traditional romanticist style and has allowed the work to become more realistic.
“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.”
– William Shakespeare (1609)
Although the poem, reigns true to the stereotypical structure of a Shakespearean sonnet, it indistinctively indicates a use of creative license, however this is not through structure, (quatrains and “abab cdcd efef gg”) but through topic and tone, (metaphors, hyperbole and emotion) the undeniable differences that this poem has compared to Shakespeare’s others’ adds a multi-dimensional paradox to his stylistic forms.
In conclusion, it is evident, that although each form of a sonnet has a conventional way of writing, and that it becomes each forms’ “trademark” and indicator of form. It is key to note that the invention within each form of sonnet; the creative license and perspectives are equally as important as tradition. By manipulating different techniques and styles, as far as creatively possible the entire piece endeavours to a surprising twist. The reader believes that they are reading a Petrarchan sonnet or Shakespearean sonnet; the structure may be what is predicted, the Volta may be in the exact place; and the and yet the subtle differences to the tone, perspective, narrative and metrical foot alter the entire convention of the sonnet.
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