The Penguin Book of the Sonnet: 500 Years of a Classic Tradition in English

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Phillis Levin
Penguin Books, 2001 - Poetry - 448 pages
4 Reviews
A unique anthology celebrating that most vigorous of literary forms--the sonnet

The sonnet is one of the oldest and most enduring literary forms of the post-classical world, a meeting place of image and voice, passion and reason, elegy and ode. It is a form that both challenges and liberates the poet.

For this anthology, poet and scholar Phillis Levin has gathered more than 600 sonnets to tell the full story of the sonnet tradition in the English language. She begins with its Italian origins; takes the reader through its multifaceted development from the Elizabethan era to the Romantic and Victorian; demonstrates its popularity as a vehicle of protest among writers of the Harlem Renaissance and poets who served in the First World War; and explores its revival among modern and contemporary poets. In her vibrant introduction, Levin traces this history, discussing characteristic structures and shifting themes and providing illuminating readings of individual sonnets. She includes an appendix on structure, biographical notes, and valuable explanatory notes and indexes. And, through her narrative and wide-ranging selection of sonnets and sonnet sequences, she portrays not only the evolution of the form over half a millennium but also its dynamic possibilities.

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User Review  - JanettLeeWawrzyniak - LibraryThing

This book is an anthology that celebrates that most vigorous of literary forms, the Sonnet. The earliest sonnets record the unceasing conflict between the law of reason and the law of love, the need ... Read full review

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This book is an anthology that celebrates that most vigorous of literary forms, the Sonnet.
The earliest sonnets record the unceasing conflict between the law of reason and the law of love, the
need to solve a problem that cannot be resolved by an act of will, yet finds its fulfillment, if not its solution, only in the poem. Thematically and structurally this tension plays itself out in the relationship between a fixed formal pattern and the endless flow of feeling. The poet experiences the illusion of control and the illusion of freedom and from the meeting of those illusions creates the reality off the poem.
The sonnet is one of the only poetic forms with predetermined lengths, specific though flexible set of possibilities for arranging patterns of meaning and sound but it is also a blueprint for building a structure that remains open to the unknown, ready to lodge an unexpected guest.
A sonnet is a fourteen line poem that composes a single stanza, called a quatorzain. When a sonnet is true to its nature, it encompasses contradiction and arrives at resolution or revelation.
The reader of this book can follow the sonnets evolution over time, experiencing firsthand how historical, political, and structural pressures engender innovation, subversion and renewal.
Many sonnets are included with dates. I enjoyed reading this book and recommend it.


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About the author (2001)

Phillis Levin's poems have appeared in many publications and anthologies. She is author of the Norma Farber First Book Award-winning Temples and Fields, as well as The Afterimage. Phillis Levin is also the recipient of an Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship, an Ingram Merrill Grant, and a Fulbright Fellowship to Slovenia, and has been a fellow at The MacDowell Colony and Yaddo. She lives in New York City and currently teaches in the M.A. program in Creative Writing at Hofstra University.

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