Sonnets Songs vs. Sonnets What's Love Term Paper

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Sonnets

Songs vs. Sonnets

What's love and blank verse got to do with it?

Both the poetic forms of songs and sonnets are common ways that individuals throughout the ages have expressed their thoughts and feelings, quite often but not exclusively about romantic love. During the Elizabethan age, if a man felt affection for a woman, he might pen his lady a sonnet, while today many teenagers send songs to one another, if they feel the songs express their deepest feelings. However, unlike a sonnet, a song can be freer in its format. While songs often have some form, such as a refrain, or a repeating phrase or melody, sonnets must adhere to a very specific structure.

The sonnet format, in which the writer introduces a problem or idea, in the first rhymed stanza, contemplates the problem with a different point-of-view in the second (and third, if the writer is using a Shakespearean sonnet form), then resolves the question in the final couplet must be strictly followed for the poem to be considered a sonnet. Also, because of its rhymed, intricate wordplay, sonnets often have a highly intellectual and meditative character, unlike songs. Although the sonnet may be superficially about a beloved, it may also address issues of philosophical or religious significance.

Sonnets began as songs. In fact, the word sonnet is Italian for "little song" (Hennequin 2000). The rhythmic structure of a sonnet is iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter simply means that the words of every line move from an unstressed syllable to a stressed syllable, and this pattern is repeated, with some occasional variations, five times. If there are variations, it is usually because the poet wishes to highlight a particular word or idea, not because the poet is making a mistake in his or her counting! Italian sonnets, also called Petrarchian sonnets because they were first used by the poet Petrarch, have an octet or eight lines that introduce a theme or question, followed by a sextet of six lines. They follow a predictable, regular rhyme scheme of: "abbaabba cde" or "abbaabba cc dd ee" or "abbaabba cdcd ee" (Hennequin 2000).

Because more Italian words end in a vowel than English words, the English poets began to develop different forms of sonnet writing when they started using the format. The most famous of these formats is the Shakespearean sonnet. "This form is probably the most common in English. Shakespeare didn't invent the form, but his sonnets are probably the best know of this type. A Shakespearean sonnet consists of three quatrains and a final couplet. The rhyme scheme goes abab cdcd efef gg" (Hennequin 2000). The greater freedom of word choice intellectualized the sonnet form, as did Shakespeare's influence in general, since Shakespeare often used his poetry and places to think about the relationship of love, death, and morality.

Shakespeare's sonnets are often called small arguments as well as songs, "with three main points, each taking up one quatrain, and a counter to that argument or a conclusion to that argument in the ending couplet," while "the structure of the Italian or Petrarchan sonnet is different, as it is divided "into two parts, not four. This form is better for [simpler] arguments with two parts -- a happens (octet), therefore b (sextet). Another use is to tell a brief story or allegory (octet) and draw a conclusion from it (sextet)" (Hennequin 2000).

It has been noted that quite often, especially given the difficulty of writing Petrarchian sonnets in English that authors such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning have focused on less philosophical love themes. Browning's "How do I love thee? / Let me count the ways" is a catalogue or list of the ways that she adores her beloved. It then resolves the original thought by resolving to love the subject of the poem better after death. In contrast, Shakespeare's poem, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" while also about love, and the ways to express adoration for a beloved, eventually moves to a meditation on the transient nature of human mortality, musing that "summer's lease hath too short a date."

But songs, even more so than either the metaphorical love expressed in Petrarchian sonnets or the intellectual love of Shakespeare's sonnets, tend to be even more visceral and emotional. Because of their free-flowing nature, songs tend to be clearer in their line of thought and feeling, whether they are joyful or sorrowful. As songs are set to music as well, the meaning of the words must be simpler, so even a casual listener can become engaged in the song. Even songs not about love, like protest or dancing songs, use pumping notes with short syllables and repeated refrains to get the heart pounding or the feet moving, rather than complex ideas.

For example, take Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" Although the second line reads "Thou art more lovely and more temperate," immediately the poem about the beautiful beloved becomes metaphorically dense, as the reader is given the image that although: "Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May/and summer's lease hath all too short a date." The feelings of love of the poet make him meditative about how short life can be, and the fact that the beloved will die. If this sonnet was set to music, or put into as song format, the quick shift to a celebration of the beloved's beauty to a sad vision of the shortness of summer would very likely go unnoticed.

In the second rhymed stanza he poet thinks about how the sun shines too hot, dimming the gold complexion of the beloved. He is worried that chance or simply time can rob even a beloved of physical beauty. This is not merely a celebration of love, because the lover understands with foresight the transience of all love, all mortal existence, and realizes that earthly love is not for 'all time,' even though many songs celebrate the sensation that love will last forever. It is also abstract -- the poet is not afraid simply that the beloved will leave him, but the fact that everything mortal fades and dies.

But in the third rhymed section, the poet realizes that the young beloved will love forever, not because he is immortal, but because, the couplet resolves, that the poem itself will give life to the beloved. The poet decides that a poem, as it is a written artifact is timeless. Whether the reader agrees with this sentiment, he or she must acknowledge the complexity of thought, from love, to mourning the fact that human life no matter how beautiful is short, to the sudden comfort taken in the fact that mortal human beings, out of love, can create timeless verse about the people they love. This sequence of thought illustrates the intellectual nature of the poetic love sonnet.

Shakespeare also wrote songs that meditated upon the nature of love and death. Take, for example "O Mistress Mine" from his comedy "Twelfth Night" that takes up many of the similar themes of the sonnets. The difference between the two formats is immediately apparent. The simpler rhyme scheme of the song is designed to catch a listener's attention during a play just like a modern love song is designed to hold a casual listener's attention and make him or her want to stay tuned to the channel on the radio, or download the song later on. The song begins: "O mistress mine, where are you roaming? / O, stay and hear; your true love's coming."

The active image of the coming lover is much easier to understand than the question of comparing the beloved to a summer's day. The song has more action images and metaphors, a shorter syllable line length. The song ends with a… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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