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10/18/2018

What is a sonnet? Show that “How Do I Love Thee” is a sonnet.

 A sonnet is a short lyric poem of fourteen iambic pentameter lines. The lines are arranged in an intricate rhyme scheme. Usually, the first eight lines of a sonnet present a problem and the last six lines solve that problem. Its lyrical music is sustained by iambic feet and end rhyme.
         “How Do I Love Thee” is a sonnet because it has all the qualities that the sonnet usually  possesses. The poem consists of fourteen lines. The lines are written in iambic pentameter. In other words, each line consists of ten syllables which are alternately stressed. For example:
                 “How do/ I love/ thee?Let/ me count/ the ways.
                 I love/ thee to/ the depth/ snd breadth/ and height”
      The next quality for which  “How Do I Love Thee” should be identified as a sonnet is its intricate rhyme scheme. Its fourteen lines have been composed according to a particular plan. It means that Elizabeth Barrett has created end-sound of each line purposefully to fit it to a rhyme scheme. The rhyme scheme of the first eight lines is abba, abba. In other words, the end-sound of the first line (“ways”) is similar to that of the fourth line (“Grace) and the end-sound of the second line (“height”) is similar to that of the third line (“sight”). In the same way, the fifth and the eighth lines rhyme together (“everyday’s”and “praise”) as sixth and seventh lines rhyme together (“candlelight” and ”Right”). The rhyme scheme of the last six lines is cd cd cd. The ninth, eleventh and thirteenth lines end with similar sounds (“use”,”lose”snd “choose”) as tenth, twelfth and fourteenth lines rhyme together (“faith”,”breath”and “death”). Needless to explain, this intricate rhyme scheme has been used to bring in it the music that a lyric poem requires. The other devices used for the lyrical effect is the iambic feet and alliterations.
      This sonnet conforms to the pattern of a Petrarchan sonnet. Its first eight lines have the rhyme scheme of the octave of a Petrarchan sonnet   abba, abba. The remaining six lines, like a sestet of a Petrarchan sonnet, rhyme as cd cd cd. In a Petrachan sonnet the octave presents the theme of the poem; the sestet offers a solution if there is a problem or simply further develops the theme. In  “How Do I Love Thee”,  the octave makes a comparison between the poet’s love and religious and political truths. The sestet compares the intensity of love she felt while writing the poem and the intensity of love she experienced earlier in her life. Then it says that she will love her would-be husband even better after death, if God allows.
           So, there is no doubt that “How Do I Love Thee” is a sonnet. In fact, it is number forty-three of the total 44 sonnets of a sequence that Elizabeth Barrett wrote and entitled sonnets. from the Portuguese.

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