A Sonnet Upon Sonnets by Robert Burns

Fourteen, a sonneteer thy praises sings;

What magic myst’ries in that number lie!

Your hen hath fourteen eggs beneath her wings

That fourteen chickens to the roost may fly.

Fourteen full pounds the jockey’s stone must be;

His age fourteen – a horse’s prime is past.

Fourteen long hours too oft the Bard must fast;

Fourteen bright bumpers – bliss he ne’er must see!

Before fourteen, a dozen yields the strife;

Before fourteen – e’en thirteen’s strength is vain.

Fourteen good years – a woman gives us life;

Fourteen good men – we lose that life again.

What lucubrations can be more upon it?

Fourteen good measur’d verses make a sonnet.


The word sonnet comes from the Italian word “sonetto” which means “little song” and normally contains fourteen lines. Sonnets are divided into categories based on their rhyme scheme. Shakespeare’s poems follow the “abab cdcd efef gg” format. The other traditional sonnet types are Petrachan and Spenserian. The Spenserian sonnets follow the rhyming sequence of “abab bcbc cdcd ee”. The Petrachan or Italian sonnet was named for Francesco Petrarch who popularized the sonnet and began to appear in the 14th century.  This type of sonnet, has the rhyming pattern in the first octet of “abba abba” with the last six lines having various rhyming patterns.  It was lines in this sextet that mark the volta, or turn in the sonnet; so that the first eight lines posed a question and the final six answered it.


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