Introduction/Background Information on Sonnets
ü Genre’s Name: Sonnets from the Romantic Era
ü Definition of genre: A sonnet is a 14 line poem written in iambic pentameter with rhymes arranged according to a fixed scheme. Each line contains ten syllables. During the Romantic Era sonnets shifted from the typical love poem to subjects exploring nature, institutions, freedom, and imagination. Sonnets call for a strict adherence to rules but many poets in the Romantic Era experimented with the form and played loosely with the more classical conventions from the Petrarchan/Italian sonnets and the Shakespearean/English Sonnets.
ü General Purpose: To create a poem that represented a thought or emotion pertaining to the Romantic Era. These sonnets were meant to encourage intuition, nature, imagination, and self-thought; some of major themes of the Romantic Era.
ü General Audience: Other poets, higher society, literature students, an academic setting.
ü Conventions: 14 lines, figurative language, iambic pentameter, 10 syllables per line.
- The Petrarchan or Italian form usually follows a rhyme scheme of abba abba cde cde. The poem is usually divided into two sections with the first eight lines, an octave, and the last six, a sestet. There is usually a turn in the poem around line nine.
- Shakespearean, or English sonnet, has a rhyme scheme of abab cdcd efef gg. The end rhyming couplet is often used to turn the idea that has been building throughout the poem.

ü Summary of background information on genre:
The Romantic Era was a period that originated in 1770 and ended in 1870. It was an international movement affecting all the arts like painting, literature, and music. During this time there were great advances being made in what is called the Industrial Revolution where there were major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and mining. Romanticism can be thought of as revolt against the advances being made in the growing and changing move toward a more modern society.
Literature, during the Romantic Era, stressed the importance of expressing and being in touch with personal emotion, exercised free play of the imagination over reason, celebrated nature rather than civilization, and emphasized freedom from rules of form. Some of the leaders of the Romantic Movement in literature include these authors: Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Wordsworth, and Sir Walter Scott.
The writing of sonnets during the Romantic Era focused greatly on nature and how man connects to and sees himself in relation to nature. The Romantics were practically obsessed with nature and worked to draw closer to a relationship with it in their writing. Since the Romantics focused greatly on freedom this idea also lent itself to the strict form of sonnet writing. Often poets would combine the forms of the English and Italian sonnets to create a sonnet all their own that was free to explore any topic, not just love like was typical of sonnets in the past. Once the sonnet was seen as a way of writing poetry about any topic more poets began to play with sonnet writing which is a most challenging style to master.

Annotated Bibliography and Genre Samples

Coleridge, S. (1793). To the river otter. Retrieved from
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a close friend of William Wordsworth and together they are known to have started the Romantic Movement in England. Coleridge is not known for writing sonnets but he was a very influential poet during the Romantic Era. “To the River Otter” is written about a river otter near the home that Coleridge spent his childhood. This sonnet does not stick very closely to the strict form of an Italian sonnet so while it is not a great example of how to write a true Italian sonnet it is worth studying because of the great impact Coleridge had on the Romantic Era.

“To the River Otter”

Dear native Brook! wild Streamlet of the West!
How many various-fated years have past,
What happy and what mournful hours, since last
I skimm'd the smooth thin stone along thy breast,
Numbering its light leaps! yet so deep imprest
Sink the sweet scenes of childhood, that mine eyes
I never shut amid the sunny ray,
But straight with all their tints thy waters rise,
Thy crossing plank, thy marge with willows grey,
And bedded sand that vein'd with various dyes
Gleam'd through thy bright transparence!
On my way,Visions of Childhood! oft have ye beguil'd
Lone manhood's cares, yet waking fondest sighs:
Ah! that once more I were a careless Child!

Keats, J. (1816). On the grasshopper and cricket. Retrieved from
  • John Keats was a key figure during the Romantic Era. While Keats is best known for his odes, his sonnet, “On the Grasshopper and Cricket”, is a great example of a sonnet that would be written to reflect the Romantic Era. The poem expresses the warmth and comfort that Mother Nature brings through her poetry. One of the goals of poetry written during this era was to encourage nature and Keats does that very well with this poem. He makes a connection with the grasshopper and the cricket by pointing out that even though his poetry and song will one day cease, “The poetry of the earth is never dead” (1). This sonnet also sticks very close to the form of the Italian sonnet and would serve as a great, easy to read poem for those learning about sonnets for the first time.

“On the Grasshopper and Cricket”

The poetry of earth is never dead:
When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;
That is the Grasshopper's--he takes the lead
In summer luxury,--he has never done
With his delights; for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.
The poetry of earth is ceasing never
On a lone winter evening, when the frost
Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket's song, in warmth increasing ever,
And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
The Grasshopper's among some grassy hills.

Shelley, P. (1818). Ozymandias. Retrieved from
  • “Ozymandias” is one of Shelley’s most famous poems. It is about the speaker of the poem meeting a traveler who told him about a statue in the desert. The traveler goes on to tell the speaker about the statue and how the remains of the statue live on even though the sculptor and his subject have passed away. The poem strongly points to the fact that of all the things man makes what remains the longest is art and language which was a central idea to the Romantic Era. This poem is a sonnet which contains fourteen lines and is written in iambic pentameter. It does not follow a set rhyme scheme which was very common for sonnets written in the Romantic Era. “Ozymandias” plays loosely with the form of an Italian sonnet and is a perfect example of sonnets that were written during the Romantic Era.


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert... Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Wordsworth, W. (1807). Composed upon a westminister bridge, september 3, 1802 . Retrieved
from __
  • William Wordsworth is one of the founding fathers from the Romantic Era. He is also known for his many sonnets and the role he played in “freeing” the sonnet from its strict form so that future sonnets did not have to center around the topic of love. This sonnet is about the sights Wordsworth sees of London as he crosses over the Westminster Bridge in the early morning. He stays true to the form of the Italian sonnet with containing the poem within fourteen lines, writing it in iambic pentameter, and following the set rhyme scheme. When approaching this genre this piece is an especially great sample to study because Wordsworth is known for his sonnets and the role he played in the Romantic Era.

“Composed upon Westminster Bridge September 3, 1802”

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!


Teaching Resources:

Author’s Blurb (this is only true in my dreams)
KRISTI PRITCHETT was a professor of English at Fresno Pacific University for 30 years. She is the author of Why Coffee? and My Mother’s Testimony. She is best known for her blog, “Find Your Answers in Cereal”, where she shares friendly, helpful advice about the best and worst cereal out there and how it can impact your life and diet. KRISTI lives in the small town of Ahwahnee, California where she has retired but still continues to write and spend her days with her husband Matthew, dog Luke, and horse Charge. In her pastime she skis, runs, hikes, and enjoys sitting by a stream listening to the wind whisper lyrical poetry in her ear.