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Sonnets

Indexed in chronological order

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The sonnet is a fixed poetic form, confined to 14 lines, but it has paradoxically proven to be a most flexible container for all kinds of poetic ideas. Francesco Petrarch developed the form in Italian in the 14th century, in the 16th century it travelled north, where William Shakespeare adapted it to his own rhyme-poor English language. English sonnets came to a low point in the 18th century, when Samuel Johnson defined a sonnet as “a small poem” and a sonnetteer as “a small poet, in contempt,” were revived in the 19th century by the Romantic poets, and have flowered in many contemporary variations. Our collection of classic sonnets is arranged chronologically to reveal the evolution of the sonnet form in English.

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