Summary and Analysis of “Scorn Not The Sonnet” by William Wordsworth

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About William Wordsworth: Born in 1770, in Cockermouth, Wordsworth had a cheerful childhood which made him believe in the essential goodness of mankind. This had made him particularly fond of rural England, to which later on, he will dedicate many tributes. He was sent to St. John’s College, Cambridge in 1787 but inspired and impressed by the great potential and possibility in French Revolution he had moved to France and stayed there for a couple of years.

Later in his life, Wordsworth expressed his great regret when he saw the reality behind his romantic ideals after the French had succumbed to Napoleon’s autocracy post their glorious revolution. Eventually, Wordsworth settled down at Alfoxden with his sister Dorothy Wordsworth and Coleridge. However, for the last fifty years of his life, he stayed at Dive Cottage in Grasmere and finally at Rydal Mount. He got married in 1802 and got appointed to a sinecure office in 1813, which got him an annual income of £500. He was announced as the poet laureate in 1843. Wordsworth died in 1850, is one of the greatest and oldest surviving of the Romantics.

Wordsworth’s treatment of sonnet and his contribution towards it:

Post Renaissance era, a passing interest in taken in sonnet as a literary form by Wordsworth’s predecessors. But it was not until Wordsworth that the revival of this Petrarchan tradition took place. Wordsworth used sonnet in a more free and varied way. He has composed more than five hundred sonnets, spanning over several genres, ranging from ruminative, mystic, political, patriotic, ecclesiastical, descriptive, occasional to topical even. Only in those sonnets which utter his magnanimous patriotism, his dauntless patriotism, for English liberty, his burning sympathy with the oppressed, the holy glee of his hatred of tyranny, is to be heard a distinct echo of the poet who first “gave the sonnet’s notes to glory”. The rest have Wordsworth’s individual color and hue, tune, and tone.

He is a greater master of the sonnet than Milton; the greatest one the whole England has known.” -Bailey

Scorn Not The Sonnet Analysis:

The sonnet is divided into two distinct parts, octate or eight-lined stanza, and sextate or six-lined stanza. The octate follows the rhyme scheme of ABBA pattern, while the sextate follows the perfect rhyme scheme of ABAB pattern, however, the last two lines end on CC rhyme pattern. The poem is written in iambic hexameter and traces the development of sonnet from Renaissance to present Modernity of Wordsworth’s times. It was first published in 1827 in Wordsworth’s  Poetical Works. It is a metapoetic sonnet, that it is a sonnet about sonnets.

It employs several literary devices to enhance its texture

Metaphor in “Scorn not the Sonnet”:

Wordsworth employs several metaphors to convey his sentiments towards the usage of sonnets. He says “the melody of this small lute…”, the small lute here refers to the sonnet as a form of a poem, and due to its small length, it’s called to be small.

He goes on to say “  the thing became a trumpet”,  meaning it became a call to the world to proclaim Milton’s thoughts about the world.

Hyperbole in “Scorn not the Sonnet”:

Wordsworth uses hyperbole to provide gravity to the form of a sonnet, for example,

A thousand times this pipe did Tasso sound”.


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Hyperbole is often used by poets to express the depth of their emotions.

Summary of “Scorn not the Sonnet” by William Wordsworth:

Wordsworth sees sonnet as an aesthetic medium for his spiritual expression. He reprimands the critics of his age who fail to see its beauty.  He attempts to revive the sophistication of Elizabethan Era, avoiding the demoralizing and pompous influence of his immediate predecessors in the Restoration and Augustan Age.

He refers to the past glory of a sonnet by referring to great poets and initiator of this form, like Petrarch. Petrarch was the earliest of Italian poets (1304-1374), and most of his sonnets deal with his unrequited passion for his beloved, Laura. From Petrarch, Wordsworth moves on to Tasso, an Italian poet who lived form 1544-1595 and was the creator of the great sonnet called La Gerusalemme Liberata. Following Tasso, is Camöens, a Portuguese poet who resorted to the comfort of a sonnet in his exiled years in China during 1556.  Wordsworth also refers to Dante, the greatest of Italian poets (1265-1321) whose Divine Comedy gave a vision of the other world. He too composed sonnets in order to express the lighter aspects of his poetry.

In the end, the poet tells his readers how sonnet had provided comfort to Milton in his “damp” years, referring to his blindness and carrying an association with sonnet as an uplifter to depression of spirit.

“ Unless an age too late, or cold

Climate or years damp my intended wing

Deprest…”

  • Milton ( Paradise Lost, IX, 44-46)

In the book, The Boston Miscellany of Literature and Fashion, Volume 2, Issue 2, by Nathan Hale and Henry Theodore Tuckerman, it is contended that although sonnet is restrictive and compact by nature, and it fails to convey the true emotions in order to conform to asymmetrical beauty, Wordsworth’s  this particular sonnet is perhaps “ at once the highest defence and purest eulogium upon sonnets and writers of them”. After going through a comparison of sonnet’s significance in the past and the symphony that it carries, the poet points out to the present lack of it and how it was treated as a potent musical instrument by legends to enrich the fiber of poetry.

Like Milton, Wordsworth was drawn to the form by its capacities for prophetic, uplifted and indignant utterance, but like Milton, he avoids the love-sonnet.

Although Wordsworth has composed one, Why art thou Silent? to show his capability of composing one,

But while for Milton, the sonnet-form was too narrow for the spacious freedom of his poetic energy, to Wordsworth-

‘ ‘Twas pastime to be bound

Within sonnet’s scanty plot of ground’.”

Thus, in such a manner we can conclude the summary and analysis of William Wordsworth’s Scorn, not the Sonnet.

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