A sonnet sequence is a group of sonnets thematically unified to create a long work, although generally, unlike the stanza, each sonnet so connected can also be read as a meaningful separate unit.
The sonnet sequence was a very popular genre during the Renaissance, following the pattern of Petrarch. This article is about sonnet sequences as integrated wholes. For the form of individual sonnets, see Sonnet.
Sonnet sequences are typically closely based on Petrarch, either closely emulating his example or working against it. The subject is usually the speaker's unhappy love for a distant beloved, following the courtly love tradition of the troubadours, from whom the genre ultimately derived. An exception is Edmund Spenser's Amoretti, where the wooing is successful, and the sequence ends with an Epithalamion, a marriage song.
Although many sonnet sequences at least pretend to be autobiographical, the genre became a very stylised one, and most sonnet sequences are better approached as attempts to create an erotic persona in which wit and originality plays with the artificiality of the genre. Thus one could regard the emotions evoked to be as artificial as the conventions with which they are presented.
List of Italian sonnet sequences
- Dante Alighieri's La Vita Nuova (ca. 1293, 25 sonnets to Beatrice, with commentaries and other songs)
- Petrarch's Canzoniere (mid 14th-century, 227 sonnets to Laura, as well as 89 sonnets to Laura in death)
List of English sonnet sequences
During the late 16th century and early 17th century a large number of sonnet sequences were written in England. The most notable are:
- Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophel and Stella (pubd. 1591, 108 sonnets and 11 songs to Penelope Rich. The first true sonnet sequence in English, written between 1580 and 1584)
- Edmund Spenser's Amoretti (pubd. 1594, 88 sonnets and an Epithalamion to Elizabeth Boyle)
- Samuel Daniel's Delia (1592, 50 sonnets)
- Michael Drayton's Idea's Mirror (pubd. 1594, 64 sonnets to Phoebe), later reworkded as Idea (1619, 73 sonnets)
- Fulke Greville's Caelica (1633, 109 sonnets)
- Shakespeare's sonnets (pubd. 1609, 154 sonnets to a variety of unnamed people, both male and female)
- Lady Mary Wroth's Pamphilia to Amphilanthus (1621, 48 sonnets, included in Urania. The only notable sonnet sequence during the English Renaissance to be written by a woman)
Other sonnet sequences include:
- Anne Lok's (or Lock or Locke) Meditation of a Penitent Sinner (1560, 26 sonnets of a devotional nature based on Psalm 51, the first known sonnet sequence in English)
- Thomas Watson's ΕΚΑΤΟΜΠΑΟΙΑ or Passionate Centurie of Love (1582, 100 semi-sonnets, most of which are of eighteen lines each, but still emulate the general idea of Petrarch, whom Watson had translated into Latin)
- Thomas Lodge (1593, 40 sonnets to Phillis)
- Henry Constable's Diana (1592)
- William Percy's Sonnets to the fairest Coelia (1593)
- The Tears of Fancie (1593, 60 sonnets formerly attributed to Thomas Watson
- Barnabe Barnes's Partenophil and Parthenophe (1593, 104 sonnets)
- Giles Fletcher's Licia (1593, 52 sonnets)
- Zepheria, a collection of 40 sonnets by an unknown poet (1594)
- Richard Barnfield appended 20 sonnets to his Cynthia (1595).
- Emaricdulfe by E. C. Esq. (1595, 40 sonnets)
- Bartholomew Griffin's Fidessa, more chaste than kind (1596, 62 sonnets)
- Richard Linche's Diella (1596, 39 sonnets)
- William Smith's Chloris (196, 51 sonnets)
- Robert Tofte's Laura (1597, 40 sonnets)
- William Alexander of Menstrie (Later Earl of Stirling)'s Aurora (1604, contains 125 lyrics of which 105 are sonnets)
- William Drummond's Poems (1616, 68 sonnets)
Notable later sequences
During the 19th and 20th centuries, the sonnet sequence returned to favour, although with a greater variety of subject matter.
- Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese (pubd. 1850, 44 sonnets to Robert Browning)
- Dante Gabriel Rossetti's The House of Life (1870, 1881, 101 sonnets)
- George Meredith's Modern Love (1862, 50 sixteen-line sonnets)
- H. P. Lovecraft's Fungi from Yuggoth (1930)
- John Berryman's Sonnets to Chris (1947, published 1967)
- Robert Lowell's Notebook (1969), revised and expanded into the three volumes History (1973), For Lizzie and Harriet (1973) and The Dolphin (1973).
- William Wenthe's The Mysteries (pubd. 2004, 11 sonnets)
- his subsequent sequence Dream Songs — 385 eighteen-line poems published between 1964 and 1968 — could also be thought of as conforming to this genre