Sonneteers in The 19th & The 20th Century

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      Although, the sonnets of 19th to 20th century are not very highly popular, yet the poems are often graceful and moving, and their worst, most conventional excesses seem no more ridiculous than the stock of courtly love sequences of the 16th and 17th centuries. Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861), wife of (Robert Browning (1812-1889), is probably the most reputed sonneteer of Victorian period. She has written Sonnets from the Portuguese to her husband. Other sonneteers of the period are Thomas Hood (1799-1845), Charles Tennyson Turner (1808-1879), and his more famous brother, Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892), Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), George Meredith (1828-1909) with his famous Modern Loue. Although Modern Love consisted of rhymed sixteen-line iambic pentameter poems, the poems are highly praised as sonnets. Apart from these, the sonneteers of Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood are Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), Theodore Watts Dunton (1832-1914), and William Morris (1834-1896). John Addington Symonds (1840-1893) was a prominent translator of Italian sonnets and all around man of letters. Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) wrote sonnets from the 1860s into the 1920s, and his characteristic irony and sensitivity as well as the concentrated ebullience of Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) seem to defy literary trends of their time.

      Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote several major sonnets, often in sprung rhythm, such as The Windhover, and also several sonnet variants such as the - line curtal sonnet Pied Beauty and the 24-line caudate sonnet That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire. Hopkin’s poetry was, however, not published until 1918. By the end of the 19th century, the sonnet had been adapted into a general purpose. In the USA Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) wrote many sonnets like the cycle of Divina Commedia and many others as Mezzo Cummin, The Cross of Snow, Milton, The Poets, Dante, The Tides, The Galaxy, The Broken Oar, Chimes, Holidays, The Two Rivers, Venice, The Sound of the Sea, Nature and Autumn.

The Cross of Snow

In the long, sleepless watches of the night
A gentle face-the face of one long dead-
Looks at me from the wall, where round its head
The night-lamp casts a halo of pale light.
Here in this room she died; and soul more white
Never through martyrdom of fire was led
To its repose; nor can in books be read
The legend of a life more benedight.
There is a mountain in the distant West
That, sun-defying, in its deap ravines
Displays a cross of snow upon its side.
Such is the cross I wear upon my breast
These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes
And seasons, changeless since the day she died.

      Among the major poets of the early modernist period, Robert Frost (1874-1963), Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) and E. E. Cummings (1894-1962) all used the sonnet regularly. William Butler Yeats (1865- 1939) wrote the major sonnet Leda and the Swan, which uses half rhymes. Wilfred Owen’s (1893-1918) sonnet Anthem for Doomed Youth is another sonnet of the early 20th century. Spaniard. Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936) also wrote sonnets. W. H. Auden (1907-1973) wrote two sonnet sequences and several other sonnets throughout his career, and widened the range of rhyme schemes. Auden also wrote one of the first unrhymed sonnets in English, The Secret Agent (1928). Robert Lowell (1917-1977) wrote five books of unrhymed American sonnets, including his Pulitzer Prize-winning volume The Dolphin (1973). Half-rhymed, unrhymed, and even unmetrical sonnets have been very popular since 1950; perhaps the best works in the genre are Seamus Heaney’s (1939-2013) Glanmore Sonnets and Clearances, both of which use half rhymes. Geoffrey Hills (1932-2016) mid-period sequence is An Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture in England. Other modern poets, who have also practiced sonnets are Don Paterson (1963-), Joan Brossa (1919-1998), Paul Muldoon (1951), Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), Wendy Cope (1945-2013), Paul Muldoon Seymour Mayne (1944-) among some others.

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