A lyric poem is usually a short one that expresses a speaker's personal thoughts and feelings. As its Greek name indicates, a lyric was originally a poem sung to the accompaniment of a lyre, and lyrics to this day have retained a melodic quality. The elegy ( a poem of mourning, usually over the death of an individual), the ode (a complex and often lengthy lyric poem, written in a dignified formal style on some lofty or serious subject), and the sonnet are all forms of the lyric.
The sonnet is a lyric poem of fourteen lines, written in rhymed iambic pentameter, and focused on a single theme. Sonnets vary in structure and rhyme scheme, but are generally of three types:
The Italian sonnet is a form that originated in Italy in the thirteenth century. The Italian sonnet has two parts, an octave (eight lines) and a sestet (six lines). It is usually rhymed abbaabba cdecde. The two parts of the Italian sonnet play off each other in a variety of ways. Sometimes the octave raises a question, states a problem, or presents a brief narrative; and the sestet answers the question, solves the problem, or comments on the narrative. The Italian sonnet is often called the Petrarchan sonnet because the Italian poet Francesco Petrarch used it so extensively. Petrarch dedicated more than three hundred sonnets to a woman named Laura.
Petrarch and Shakespeare did not invent the sonnets named after them. and Spenser combined elements of both older forms to invent his own. But the poet who masters that form usually will give it his or her name, as was the case with Petrarch and Shakespeare.
The inventor of the sonnet was Giacomo da Lentino, who in the mid-13th century adapted a folk song known as the strambotto. It rhymed abababab and gave him the octave. Another stanza pattern gave him the sestet. Finally a contemporary named Guittone d'Arezzo adapted the da Lentino sonnet into the current Petrarchan one. The Shakespearean sonnet has a similar history. Sir Thomas Wyatt brought the form to England in the mid-16th century. But his friend Henry Howard had precious little to do in the Tower--on royalty's death row--and adapted the Wyatt version into the sonnet we still associate with the Bard.
Read the following Shakespearean sonnet. Notice the rhyme scheme and the iambic pentameter. Notice the overall structure of quatrains making an observation with concluding couplet commenting on that observation.
Do you see how the content of the message and the form of iambic pentameter, rhyme scheme, and overall format work together to create a sonnet? Remember this: