Greetings! Today is Syllabic Sonnet Day; a good day to appreciate the sonnet tradition and how a syllabic approach subtly changes the parameters of the sonnet.
The poet who applied syllabics to the sonnet form in English is Elizabeth Daryush. I think her work on the sonnet is exemplary.
It is a matter of interest to me that the original Italian sonnet was a syllabic form because Italian poetry is syllabic. When the sonnet passed to England the sonnet took on metrical shape. The metrical shape of the sonnet, particularly iambic pentameter, has been an almost defining characteristic of the sonnet in English since then. Some would argue that a sonnet not written in iambics is not a sonnet. Historically, there is some justification for this.
On the other hand, if you cast your historical glance back to the Italian model, then a syllabic approach might not be seen as a radical departure from the tradition of English sonnets. Rather it could be understood as a return to the first procedures of its construction.
Personally, I have found taking a syllabic approach to the sonnet to be congenial. I like the way the beat of the line can shift as one moves through the sonnet. The pulse is maintained by the syllabic count, but above the syllabic count there is an ebb and flow of accented and unaccented syllables. There is a kind of counterpoint between the two.
Here is one of Elizabeth Daryush’s sonnets; it is from Collected Poems:
Here, where the larks sing, and the sun’s so warmThat gorse-pods click each minute, and the grass
Rustles, as through dry bents the breezes pass,
And butterflies over the heather swarm,
Here I, an ardent lover of all these,
Would build our home – I’d take but the small crest
Of the long hill, and leave untouched the rest,
The coney-shaven turf, the scanty trees.
Here, having marked and worked our cottage-claim,We’d meet the first shy rays, on summer dawns,
Approaching to unveil our dewy lawns
Of wild-flowers; and when winter evenings came,
We’d watch from our bright room the stealthy darkMuffling the stunt thorns of our snowy park.