The sonnet may be famous in part due to the work of William Shakespeare and other grand masters of poetry, but it was invented in Sicily.
Giacomo da Lentini is credited with coming up with the poetic form for the first time, implementing a 14-line structure that follows a strict rhyming pattern. Da Lentini, also known as Jacopo Notaro, lived in the 13th century, and his work was adopted by Francesco Petrarch in the 14th century, who became the most famous early sonneteer.
By the 16th century the first sonnets were being written in English by Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard. They used the traditional Italian structure, but by the Renaissance period Shakespeare had modified the sonnet.
While they still use iambic pentameter, a term used to describe the rhythmic style of the poetry, Shakespeare used a different rhyming system. For most English speakers the Shakespearean sonnet is the best-known form, and it will be familiar to many people.
Some of the most famous sonnets include “Whoso List to Hunt” by Wyatt, one of the first English-language sonnets; Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 29”; “Death, Be Not Proud,” by John Donne; and “The Windhover” by Gerard Manley Hopkins.
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