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The sonnet (plural: the sonnets, from Latin sonare 'tönen, klingen', sonus 'sound, sound' and Italian sonetto ) is a form of poetry . The name means "small piece of clay" (see " Sonata ") and was translated as "Klinggedicht" in the German Baroque .

Structure and variants

A sonnet consists of 14 metrically structured lines of verse, which in the original Italian form are divided into four short stanzas : two quartets and two subsequent trios .

The individual verses (lines) of the Italian sonnet are endecasillabi (eleven silver) with mostly female cadence . In German , this corresponds to the iambic five-lifter whose cadence can be female (11 syllables) or male (10 syllables).

In Spanish and Portuguese poetry, the sonnet was adopted as a whole based on the Italian model.

In the French classical period and in the first reception phase in Germany during the baroque period, the preferred meter was the Alexandrian , a six-lever iambus with a caesura in the middle, the drama verse of the French classical period. This form of the sonnet is also called the Ronsard sonnet after Pierre de Ronsard .

In the English sonnet found its way literature in the 16th century. The form was changed very quickly: three quartets lead to a two-line heroic couplet ; the meter is the iambic five-meter with - less often - female or - more often - male cadence. The English sonnet is also named as the Shakespeare sonnet after its most important author or as the Elizabethan sonnet after the first heyday of the form.

In Germany , too , the iambic five-lifter has been an ideal form since A. W. Schlegel with a male (blunt) or female (sounding) cadence and the rhyme scheme

[abba abba cdc dcd]


[abba cddc eef if necessary]

In the two trios, however, many variants occurred at all times, for example

[abba abba ccd eed]
[abba abba cde cde]
[abba abba ccd dee]
[abba abba cde ecd]

The English sonnet rhymed

[abab cdcd efef gg]

Sonnet cycles

Often several sonnets are put together in larger cycles :

  • Tenzone : Discussion between two poets, where the rhyme endings of the preceding sonnet are taken up in a strict form.
  • Sonnet (s) wreath : The sonnet wreath is composed of 14 + 1 individual sonnets, with each sonnet in the first line taking up the last line of the previous one. From the 14 closing lines, the 15th or master sonnet results in the same order.
  • A hundred thousand billion poems by Raymond Queneau , 1961 (literary hypertext avant la lettre)
  • Sonettennetz : The sonettennetz is a poem form developed by Thomas Krüger for the first time in the volume of poems "Im Grübelschilf", which further develops the form of the sonnet wreath, although the 14 basic sonnets are not connected by repeated lines. In a sonnet network, 14 sonnets are given, the parallel verses of which in turn result in 14 new sonnets in the sense of a network. The attraction is that 14 new sonnets are derived from the 14 basic sonnets without adding new lines. Just as in the sonnet wreath a new 15th sonnet is created from the 14 final lines, so in the sonnet network the first lines, joined together in the same order, result in another sonnet, the same applies to all second lines and to all third lines, etc. The rhyme scheme[abba abba ccd eed]is also retained in the 14 derived sonnets. In the end you get 28 sonnets.

Poetic content

Ideal content structuring are:

  • in the Italian sonnet:
  • alternatively also in the Italian sonnet:
    • Thesis in the quartets
    • Antithesis in the thirds
  • in the English sonnet:
    • Thesis in the first two quartets
    • Antithesis in the third quartet
    • Aphorism-like synthesis in the couplet.


Beginning in Italy in the 13th century

The origin of the sonnet lies in Italy , in the first half of the 13th century . It was probably "invented" before 1250 at the Apulian-Sicilian court of the Hohenstaufen emperor Friedrich II in Palermo. This is where the courtly Sicilian school of poets was located , which wrote Minnelyric in the Sicilian lingua volgare . Giacomo da Lentini , who held a top position in the Sicilian School of Poetry, could have been the first user of the form and thus the "inventor" of the sonnet. Occasionally, a relationship with certain forms of Arabic poetry is suspected. (Along with Sicilian Italian, Arabic was the lingua franca in Palermo.)

The poems from the first half of the 13th century all had the same pattern, which was later adopted by the masters of sonnet art, Petrarch and his successors: Sonnets always consisted of fourteen eleven-syllable verses divided into an octave or an octet and a sextet were divided.

The octave was subject to a two-line structure of alternating rhymes ([abababab]). The two quartets (or the octet) and the subsequent trios (or the sextet) were separated by a rhetorical new approach. The rhyme scheme of the two terzets was different, mostly[cde cde], but there were also variants.

This group of the oldest known sonnets comprises 19 poems. Fifteen by Giacomo da Lentini , one each by Jacopo Mostacci and Pier delle Vigne (also Petrus de Vinea ) and two more by the abbot of the Tivoli monastery. A more precise dating of the surviving texts of the circle of poets around Friedrich II. (The emperor himself also wrote, although no sonnets) is not possible.

Illuminated manuscript with the first sonnet of the Canzoniere by Petrarch

The sonnet form was made famous by Francesco Petrarca (1304–1374). His collection of poems, the Canzoniere , was created in the first half of the 14th century and first appeared in print in 1470. The work, the beginning of the second great erotic poetry system in Western literary history after minnesang , the dolce stil nuovo , consists essentially of sonnets addressed to Laura , the poet “Madonna angelicata” , and thus provides a sustainable model for numerous imitators up to the beginning of the 17th century ( Shakespeare's sonnets ). One speaks of Petrarchism or the Petrarch sonnet .

Petrarch's contemporary Antonio da Tempo described 16 different rhymes of the sonnet in his book “Summa artis rithmici”. Four of these forms were later counted as part of the high sonnet poetry, the four types that Petrarch used in his canzoniere : the entwined ([abba abba]) and the alternating rhymes for the octave, the three-rhyme form ([cde cde]) and the alternating form ([cdc dcd]) for the sextet.

Spread over Europe to the German Baroque

After a first bloom with Petrarch and Dante - a famous Petrarkist and sonnet poet was later also Michelangelo (1475–1564) - and the immediate reception in Hebrew by Immanuel ha-Romi , the sonnet spread throughout the Romanesque cultural area, including in the 16th century in England and Germany, a little later in the Netherlands and Scandinavia. The oldest known German sonnet cycle comes from Johann Fischart . With the Romantic era , the sonnet also became popular in the Slavic countries.

Around 1450 the Petrarchist sonnet came to Spain ( Íñigo López de Mendoza ) and in the first half of the 16th century to Portugal ( Francisco de Sá de Miranda , later Luís de Camões ). In the middle of the century it came to France ( Louise Labé , Joachim du Bellay , Pierre de Ronsard ) and towards the end of the same to Holland and Germany.

In France, as later in Germany, the rhythm of language underwent a major change. The eleven-syllable meter preferred by the Italians did not always find an equivalent in French. Many French poets therefore used the alexandrine , the classic drama verse, a twelve- or thirteen-syllable measure with a caesura after syllable 6 or 7. This metric peculiarity was adapted by the German poets of the Baroque as an iambic six-pointer with a middle caesura.

With Shake Speare's Sonnets (1609),
William Shakespeare created what is probably the most famous cycle of sonnets of all time after Petrarch's Canzoniere . Many poets have tried and trained themselves on the translation of his sonnets.
Sonnet 1 from Shakespeare's Sonnets, first printed in 1609

In England there was an important sonnet culture among the Elizabethan poets ( Sir Philip Sidney , Edmund Spenser , Michael Drayton , Samuel Daniel, and others). Above all William Shakespeare (1564-1616) brought the Petrarkist love sonnet in the special form of the Elizabethan sonnet (three quartets and a final couplet, here as in Italian always in the iambic five levers ) to a final bloom in 1609.

Georg Rudolf Weckherlin and the poetics of Martin Opitz were important for the introduction of the sonnet in Germany . As an independent, expressive form, however, the sonnet only gained importance with Andreas Gryphius , albeit in the Alexandrian form of France. Petrarkism was long since abandoned with Gryphius. Gryphius combined the sonnet with the aims of religious poetry (such as the vanitas concept of the time) and processed the horrors of the Thirty Years' War in the sonnet .

The "sonetti romaneschi" of the Roman folk poet Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli (1791–1863) are a specialty of the form's country of origin . Belli masterfully made use of the old form for the purpose of realistic reporting on his Roman environment in well over 2000 sonnets.

The sonnet in Germany since the late 18th century

Sonnet from April 3, 1816 "for the 67th birthday" by an unknown author

This heyday was followed by a time in which the overused form was avoided by poets or the rules were deliberately broken until the form was hesitantly rediscovered in the late 18th century.

The sonnet gained serious importance again with Gottfried August Bürger's collection of poems from 1789. For his sonnets, Bürger used the iambic five-sliver, which had become modern at that time due to the Shakespeare reception.

His student August Wilhelm Schlegel made the sonnet with its poetics and poems a prominent paradigm of German romanticism. The themes of the sonnet turned to the philosophy of art. Sonnets were created on paintings or pieces of music.

As before, the respected shape also aroused constant ridicule. Sonnet lovers and sonnet opponents waged a real war against each other. Under these conditions, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe also took a position and tried very successfully at sonnets. During the anti-Napoleonic liberation struggles, the sonnet became a political sonnet (cf. Friedrich Rückert's "Geharnischte Sonette", 1814).

Through Junge Deutschland and Vormärz , the sonnet became the most frequently used lyrical form of the time. For this epoch u. a. August von Platen-Hallermünde , especially with the famous sonnets from Venice .

In symbolism , the sonnet found a new evaluation by Stefan George (especially in his translations), Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Rainer Maria Rilke . It also appeared in the lyric poetry of Expressionism ; there it had to reflect the downfall of old values ​​or the grotesque and comical. Among the expressionist poets Georg Heym , Georg Trakl , Jakob van Hoddis , Theodor Däubler , Paul Zech and Alfred Wolfenstein used the sonnet form.

Reinhold Schneider countered the criminal violence of the National Socialist state with a Christian attitude in the strictly ordered language of his sonnets. At that time they were distributed in a kind of samizdat and could only be printed after the end of the war (see Jochen Kleppers' Olympic sonnets from 1936, published in 1947; now in: ders .: Ziel der Zeit ). During and after the Second World War, persecuted and imprisoned persons ( Albrecht Haushofer'sMoabiter Sonette ”, 1946), emigrants and survivors clung to the strict form of the sonnet.

The sonnet was little cultivated in the FRG between the 1950s and 1970s ( Christoph Meckel , Volker von Törne , Robert Wohlleben , Klaus M. Rarisch ). The sonnets that have been written often show the sonnet form as meaningless. Robert Gernhardt's famous sonnet is almost another praise for the sonnet. Materials for a critique of the best-known form of poetry of Italian origin . In the GDR, the sonnet was often taken up and productively developed by the Saxon school of poets ( Karl Mickel , Rainer Kirsch and others). Since the late 1970s, more sonnets have been written again, for example by Andreas Altmann , Achim Amme , Ernst-Jürgen Dreyer , Eugen Gomringer , Durs Grünbein and Ulla Hahn . In the younger generation, this form of poetry can be found among others with Jan Wagner .

Other important sonnet poets

Almost two and a half centuries after Shakespeare, another cycle of 44 English love sonnets became famous: Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese from 1850. Charles Baudelaire was an important French sonnet poet in the mid-19th century . In his main work " Les Fleurs du Mal " about half of the poems are written in the form of sonnets. Even Stéphane Mallarmé and Arthur Rimbaud wrote perfectly shaped sonnets. If the strictness is maintained externally, the sonnet's inner tendency to dissolve towards a more flexible, freer use of form can be recognized in the latter. While the sonnets of Expressionism tie in with the roughness of Rimbaud's sonnets, the floating, airy tone of Mallarmé's sonnets is most likely to be transformed and continued by Rilke in the sonnets of Orpheus the German.


Francesco Petrarch

Io canterei d'amor sí novamente
ch'al duro fiancho il dí mille sospiri
trarrei per forza, et mille alti desiri
raccenderei ne la gelata mente;

e 'l bel viso vedrei cangiar sovente,
et bagnar gli occhi, et piú pietosi giri
far, come suol chi de gli altrui martiri
et del suo error quando non val si pente;

et le rose vermiglie in fra le neve
mover da l'òra, et discovrir l'avorio
che fa di marmo chi da presso 'l guarda;

e tutto quel per che nel viver breve
non rincresco a me stesso, anzi mi glorio
d'esser servato a la stagion piú tarda.

- Francesco Petrarca : Sonnet 131

I wanted to proclaim love in such a new way,
That hard
brood I squeezed out a thousand moans every day and a thousand-fold sinews
In a cold heart I must ignite;

I would often find a "beautiful face" discolored,
the look of pity , bathed in tears,
As those tend to
feel in vain for repentance for their own imaginations and for foreign shame;

See red roses that weave in the snow,
The ivory , moved by the breath,
That makes the marble who perceives it close,

And all that, why in my short life
I do not despair, for your sake
I am proud for the last time pared.

- Translation: Karl August Förster

William Shakespeare

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:

O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.

Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

- William Shakespeare : Sonnet CXVI

Nothing can hinder the covenant of two faithful hearts who are
truly in the same mood. Love is not love,
the separation or change could diminish,
which would not remain convertible in change.
Oh no! She is an eternally firm goal,
That remains unshaken in storms and waves,
A star for every crazy barque Kiel, -
No height measure has considered its value.
Lieb 'is no fool of time, whether Rosenmunde
And Wangen also fade over time -
but it does not change with day and hour,
your goal is endless, like eternity.
     If this turns out to be an error in my work,
     I never wrote that , no man has ever loved.

- Translation: Friedrich von Bodenstedt

Nothing breaks the bonds that bind love.
It would not be, it could disappear
because what it loves will one day vanish from it;
and if it weren't for a reason to found yourself.

It stands and shines like the high tower that
steers ships and guides them through the weather,
the end of the umbrella, and unbent by the storm,
the always waiting ungrateful savior.

Love is not a mockery of the times, be the lip that
could kiss, loveliness gone;
it does not end with that death hip.
It stands and waits for the beginning.

If the truth is not what is made known through me,
then I never wrote, never swore love a mouth.

- Translation: Karl Kraus

(These and 9 other adaptations of the 116th sonnet on; there are more than 80 translations of the poem into German.)

Andreas Gryphius

We are only completely, yes more completely devoured!
The cheeky crowd, the raging trumpet,
The heavy weight of blood, the thundering
Carthaun had consumed all sweat, diligence and supplies.

The towers are glowing, the church is turned back.
The Rahthaus is in the gray, the strong are haunted,
The Jungfrawn are desecrated, and wherever we go,
Is fewer, plague, and death, the heart and soul carries through.

Fresh blood always rushes through the city.
Dreymall are already six years, when our rivers flood,
heavy with so many corpses, slowly pushed away.

But I still keep silent about what is worse than death,
what grimmer the plague and fiery hunger, that
now the selenium treasure is forced from so many.

- Andreas Gryphius : Tears of the Fatherland in 1636

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    Nature and art, they seem to flee
       each other And have found each other before you think about it;
       The reluctance has disappeared from me too,
       And both seem to attract me the same.

    It is only a sincere effort!
       And when we only, in measured hours,
       bound ourselves to art with spirit and diligence,
       may freely nature glow again in the heart.

    It is the same with all education.
       In vain will unbound spirits
       strive for the consummation of pure height.

    If you want big things, you have to pull yourself together.
       Only in limitation does the master show himself,
       and only the law can give us freedom.

- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe : Nature and Art

Heinrich Heine

I once left you in mad madness
I wanted to go the whole world to an end
And wanted to see if I could find love
To embrace love lovingly.
I looked for love in every street,
In front of every door I stretch out my hands,
And begged for gringe donation of love,
But laughing, I was only given cold hatred.
And I always wandered about love, always
For love, but I never found love
And returned home, sick and gloomy.
But then you came to meet me
And oh! what swam in your eye,
That was sweet, long-sought love.

- Heinrich Heine : I once left you in mad madness

Georg Trakl

The brown-gold sounds of a gong fade -
A lover wakes up in black rooms
Die Wang 'to flames that flicker in the window.
Sails, masts, ropes flash on the river.

A monk, a pregnant woman there in the crowd.
Strumming guitars, shimmering red coats.
Chestnuts wither sultry with a golden sheen;
The sad pomp of the churches rises in black.

The spirit of evil looks out of pale masks.
A place is dusky and gloomy;
In the evening whispers stir on islands. Lepers

read the confused signs of the flight of birds
, and they may rot at night.
Trembling siblings see each other in the park.

- Georg Trakl : Dream of Evil

August Wilhelm Schlegel

Two rhymes are called 'I return four times,
And place them, divided, in equal rows,
That here and there two framed by two
in the double choir float up and down.

Then the chain of uniformity loops through two links,
alternating more freely, each of three.
In such order, in such number,
The tender and proudest of songs flourish .

I will never
wreath him with my lines, To whom vain gimmick seems to be my being,
And obstinacy the artificial laws.

But, to whom secret magic beckons in me, I
lend your highness, fill within narrow limits.
And pure balance of opposites.

- August Wilhelm Schlegel : The sonnet

Quantitative research

The Quantitative literature has dealt with sonnets under very different aspects. A new overview using the example of sonnets from several languages ​​can be found in Andreev, Místecký and Altmann (2018).


  • Andreas Böhn : The contemporary German-language sonnet. Diversity and topicality of a literary form . Stuttgart 1999.
  • Thomas Borgstedt: Topic of the sonnet. Generic theory and history . Tübingen 2009.
  • Jörg-Ulrich Fechner (Ed.): The German Sonnet. Seals - genre poetics - documents . Munich 1969.
  • John Fuller : The Sonnet. London 1972.
  • Erika Greber , Evi Zemanek (Hrsg.): Sonett arts: Medial transformations of a classical genre. Dozwil TG 2012.
  • Ursula Hennigfeld: The ruined body. Petrarkistic sonnets from a transcultural perspective . Wuerzburg 2008.
  • Max Jasinski: Histoire du Sonnet en France. Douai 1903 (reprinted from Genève 1970).
  • Friedhelm Kemp : The European sonnet . 2 volumes. Göttingen 2006.
  • Michael Mertes : experimenta sonettologica - laboratory experiments with the most famous form of poetry of Italian origin. Bonn 2018, ISBN 978-3-9816420-9-4 .
  • Heinz Mitlacher: Modern sonnet design. Leipzig 1932.
  • Walter Mönch : The sonnet. Shape and history. Heidelberg 1955.
  • Paul Neubauer: Between tradition and innovation. The Sonnet in Twentieth Century American Literature. Heidelberg 2001.
  • Hans Jürgen Schlütter: Sonnet . Metzler Collection; 177: Dept. E, Poetics. Stuttgart 1979.
  • Raoul Schrott : Giacomo da Lentino or the invention of the sonnet. In: ders .: The invention of poetry . dtv, Munich 1999, pp. 391-432 (original edition: Eichborn, Frankfurt am Main 1997).
  • Theo Stemmler, Stefan Horlacher (Hrsg.): Forms of the sonnet. Tübingen 1999.
  • Theo Stemmler: Following the emperor, the officials began to write poetry. In: FAZ , September 15, 2010, page N4.
  • Jochen Vogt : Invitation to literary studies. 3rd, revised and updated edition. Munich 2002.
  • Heinrich Welti : History of the sonnet in German poetry. With an introduction about home, origin and nature of the sonnet form. Leipzig 1884.

Web links

Wiktionary: Sonnet  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. 2006, ISBN 3-87023-154-8 .
  2. ^ L. Biadene: Morfologia del sonetto nei secoli XIII e XIV. Rome 1888.
  3. ^ Francisco de Sá de Miranda: Obras Completas. Texto fixado, notas e prefácio pelo Prof. M. Rodrigues Lapa. Volume I, 3rd edition. Sá da Costa, Lisboa 1960.
  4. See z. B. Hans-Walter Schmidt-Hannisa: Humiliate - to increase. Sonnetistic sonnet criticism with Robert Gernhardt and some of his predecessors. In: Klaus H. Kiefer, Armin Schäfer, Hans-Walter Schmidt-Hannisa (eds.): The poetry claims its right. Festschrift for Walter Gebhard on his 65th birthday. Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main / Berlin / Bern / Bruxelles / New York / Oxford / Vienna 2001, pp. 101–114.
  5. Quoted from: Il Canzoniere, Sonetto 131
  6. Quoted from: Francesco Petrarca's Italian poems, translated and accompanied with explanatory notes by Karl Förster, professor at the K. Knight Academy in Dresden. 2 vols., Brockhaus, Leipzig and Altenburg 1818/19 (bilingual edition; digitized volumes 1 and 2 at Google Books), vol. 1, p. 323 (here: 100th sonnet).
  7. Quoted from: ( Memento from November 29, 2010 in the web archive )
  8. Quoted from: Friedrich Bodenstedt's Gesammelte Schriften. Total edition in twelve volumes. Eighth volume. William Shakespeare's sonnets in German reproduction. Publishing house of the Royal Secret Ober-Hofbuchdruckerei, Berlin 1866, p. 171 (here 142nd Sonnet; digitized in the Internet Archive )
  9. ^ Shakespeare's sonnets. Re-poetry by Karl Kraus. Verlag Die Fackel, Vienna / Leipzig 1933, unpaginated.
  10. ^ William Shakespeare Sonnet 116 . Retrieved February 11, 2020.
  11. Quoted from: Andreas Gryphius on Wikisource
  12. Quoted from: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe : What we bring. Prelude to the opening of the new theater in Lauchstädt. In: Eduard der Hellen (ed.): Complete works. Anniversary edition in 40 volumes. Volume 9, Cotta, Stuttgart / Berlin n.d., p. 235.
  13. Heinrich Heine: Book of songs. Hoffmann & Campe, Hamburg 1827, p. 93.
  14. ^ The poems of Georg Trakl. Kurt Wolff Verlag, Leipzig undated (1917), p. 50.
  15. ^ August Wilhelm von Schlegel: Complete Works. Volume 1, Leipzig 1846, p. 303, (online)
  16. Sergey Andreev, Michal Místecký, Gabriel Altmann : Sonnets: Quantitative Inquiries . RAM-Verlag, Lüdenscheid 2018. ISBN 978-3-942303-71-2 .