Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations

Villanelles, Sonnets and Meter

By Jamelah Earle on Friday, September 26, 2003 12:15 am


An introduction to some of the major poetic forms:

Villanelle

A villanelle is a 19-line poem, made up of five tercets and a concluding quatrain. Lines may be of any length, but are often written in iambic pentameter and follow an ABA rhyme scheme. The villanelle also employs line repetition. The first line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line in the second and fourth stanzas, and as the penultimate line in the final quatrain. The third line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line in the third and fifth stanzas, and as the last line in the final quatrain.

The structure and rhyme scheme of the villanelle is as follows:

A1
B
A2

A
B
A1

A
B
A2

A
B
A1

A
B
A2

A
B
A1
A2

An example of a villanelle:


Do not go gentle into that good night, by Dylan Thomas


Do not go gentle into that good night, (A1)
Old age should burn and rave at close of day; (B)
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. (A2)


Though wise men at their end know dark is right, (A)
Because their words had forked no lightning they (B)
Do not go gentle into that good night. (A1)


Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright (A)
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, (B)
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. (A2)


Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, (A)
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, (B)
Do not go gentle into that good night. (A1)


Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight (A)
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, (B)
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. (A2)


And you, my father, there on the sad height, (A)
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. (B)
Do not go gentle into that good night. (A1)
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. (A2)

Elizabethan (Shakespearian) Sonnet

The Elizabethan sonnet consists of 14 lines, written in iambic pentameter. It has four quatrains and a closing couplet. The structure and rhyme scheme are as follows:

A
B
A
B

C
D
C
D

E
F
E
F

G
G

An example of an Elizabethan sonnet:


Sonnet 147, by William Shakespeare


My love is as a fever, longing still (A)
For that which longer nurseth the disease, (B)
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill, (A)
The uncertain sickly appetite to please. (B)
My reason, the physician to my love, (C)
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept, (D)
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve (C)
Desire is death, which physic did except. (D)
Past cure I am, now reason is past care, (E)
And frantic-mad with evermore unrest; (F)
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen's are, (E)
At random from the truth vainly express'd; (F)
For I have sworn thee fair and thought thee bright, (G)
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night. (G)



Petrarchan Sonnet

The Italian, or Petrarchan sonnet is named for the Italian poet Petrarch. The Petrarchan sonnet also consists of 14 lines, but has a much different structure than the Elizabethan sonnet. It begins with an octave (8 lines) and closes with a sestet (6 lines). Its structure and rhyme scheme are as follows:

A
B
B
A
A
B
B
A

C
D
E
D
C
E

An example of a Petrarchan sonnet:


On His Being Arrived to the Age of Twenty-three, by John Milton


How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth, (A)
Stolen on his wing my three and twentieth year! (B)
My hasting days fly on with full career, (B)
But my late spring no bud or blossom shew'th. (A)
Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth, (A)
That I to manhood am arrived so near, (B)
And inward ripeness doth much less appear, (B)
That some more timely-happy spirits indu'th. (A)
Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow, (C)
It shall be still in strictest measure even (D)
To that same lot, however mean or high, (E)
Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heaven. (D)
All is, if I have grace to use it so, (C)
As ever in my great Task-master's eye. (E)


Types of Meter

Each type of meter is made up of two parts: the foot and the measurement. The foot is the basic building block of metered verse, and there are five types:


1. Iamb - an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. (u /)
Example: di - vine.
2. Trochee - a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. (/ u)
Example: sis - ter.
3. Dactyl - a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables. (/ u u)
Example: Can - a - da.
4. Anapest - two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable. (u u /)
Example: in - ter - cede.
5. Spondee - two stressed syllables in a row. (/ /)
Example: heart - break.


These feet, put together into lines of poetry, make up the units of measurement. Four trochaic feet would be trochaic tetrameter. Six dactylic feet would be dactylic hexameter. Five iambic feet would be iambic pentameter.

Iambic pentameter is most commonly used in metrical poetry because it mimics the natural rise and fall of everyday speech, and blank verse is a poem written in unrhymed iambic pentameter. "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun" (from Shakespeare's Sonnet 130) is an example of iambic pentameter.
No Responses to "Villanelles, Sonnets and Meter"