The Romantics and the Sonnet

The Romantic Movement in British Literature that occurred from 1785-1830, just following the Augustan Age. What our page attempts to do is collectively reconcile and represent the many prevalent themes running through much of the Romantic writing, especially through one of the more popular mediums - the sonnet. We will trace the sonnet form back to it's early origins with Petrarch and Shakespeare, and show how the themes and style of the sonnet have changed to accommodate the issues of Nature, transcendence, imagination, supernatural interaction, and love brought to life by the Romantics. We will also be looking at the Romantic poets and how they comment on human existence, a theme which later carries over to the Victorian period and the 20th century poets.

Background to the Sonnet Form

The sonnet is a fourteen line poem written in Iambic Pentameter with a rhyme scheme particular to the type of sonnet it is. The Italian, or Petrarchan sonnet is a sonnet form named after Francesco Petrarch and first introduced to English poetry in the 16th century by Sir Thomas Wyatt. The fourteen lines of a Petrarchan sonnet is most famous for its division into an octave (8 lines with a rhyme scheme abbaabba) and a sestet (6 lines with a rhyme sceme of cdecde or cdcdcd). The other form is the Elizabethan sonnet, more commonly known as the Shakespearean sonnet, named after William Shakespeare (See Note 1below). Although it was named after the bard himself, the sonnet was actually introduced by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547) and contains three quatrains (4 line stanzas) and a couplet. The rhyme scheme typically follows as such: abab cdcd efef gg.

William Shakespeare: 1564-1616
Francesco Petrarch: 1304-1347

Sonnet Themes

The most famous sonnets are also generally (though not in all cases) composed about very specific themes. Human nature is a recurring theme in many sonnets, as represented by Keats' "Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art" and Shelley's "Ozymandias". Love and romance are prominent themes in many sonnets.The power of Nature and Nature in general are also prominent themes amongst sonnet writers, as presented in the poem "Ode to the West Wind" by Shelley. Other very popular themes that writers often use as guidelines in sonnets include writing / poetry itself, religion and humanity's relationship to god, society and death.

The Traditional Shakespearian Sonnet

Shelley and the Sonnet Form

Looking at John Keats' "Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art"

Looking at Wordsworth's "The world is too much with us"

Works Cited
Images from and

Note 1: Shakespeare's 154 sonnet collection.

Kathleen Mallon
Anthony Stanziale
John Papa