AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

The English sonnet from Wyatt to Milton

by Jeptha Riggs

Institution: University of Missouri – Columbia
Year: 1904
Record ID: 1566911
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10355/15415


In 1557 there was published in London a little volume hardly known to students of English Literature by the name it then bore, but familiarly known from the name of the publisher as Tottel's Miscellany. This book was a new scion on English soil transplanted from Italian stock. Such miscellaneous collections of verse had thriven in Italy; and with Tottel's venture as a forerunner they were to become common in England. Just so, one of the forms of poetry which this volume contained was borrowed from the Italian, and examples of it in English were here for the first time given forth in print; and these, too, were, after a lapse of a quarter of a century, to become the harbingers of a great host of their kind. This poetical form was the sonnet,  – translated from the Italian of Petrarch by Sir Thomas Wyatt, purified by the Earl of Surrey, exalted and made popular by Sidney, experimented with and sometimes tortured by more than a dozen of his contemporaries and followers, and filled with a greater power than it had ever yet known by Shakespeare, after whom it suffered a relapse and decay through the hands of Donne, Drummond, and Herbert, until revived and transformed by the glorious touch of Milton. Since Milton's time the sonnet has remained pretty much the same; and has been the medium for the expression of noble feelings for some of our greatest poets. The period from Wyatt to Milton, and especially the last decade of the sixteenth century, was a period of adaptation and much experimentation. The merest bungler in verse as well as the greatest poet wrote his quota of sonnets. At times they simply translated the Italians or their earlier followers the French; again they wrote new sonnets but followed the Italian models in matter or in form or in both; and again even struck out boldly for themselves with their own thoughts, or with an untried form. It is not the aim of this paper to show how much the English sonnet has been influenced by the Italian. The question will be referred to at times, but always it w