Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Cavalier Lyrists > Decline of the sonnet
  The Caroline lyric The classical lyric  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

I. Cavalier Lyrists.

§ 2. Decline of the sonnet.

The swift decline of the sonnet after the close of the sixteenth century is one of the most remarkable events in the history of the English lyric. The decline was due, in part, to exhaustion; in part, too, to the opposition which the sonnet encountered at the hands of two poets—Jonson and Donne—the impress of whose genius is felt in English poetry far into the seventeenth century. Donne’s war upon Petrarchianism, and his creation of a love-lyric which, in its individuality and plangent realism, as well as in the “metaphysical” qualities of its style, was directly opposed to the visionary romanticism and Italian grace of the sonnet, has been the theme of a preceding chapter; 1  but the influence of Donne upon the secular lyric of the Caroline age, though apparent enough in Suckling, was less penetrating than that of his contemporary, Jonson, who, if he joined with Donne in cursing Petrarch “for redacting verses to sonnets,” would fain have sent the author of Songs and Sonets to Tyburn “for not keeping of accent.” And, whereas Donne, in the audacity of heady youthfulness, was a law unto himself, in all that pertained to lyric art, Jonson, in poetry as in drama, deliberately set about imitating the best models of the classical muse. In the field of drama, his endeavours met with but partial success; but, in poetry, he was more fortunate, and won for himself, as a reformer of the English lyric, an influence which may even be compared with that of Malherbe in the poetry of seventeenth century France.   3

Note 1. Vol. IV, Chap. XI. [ back ]

  The Caroline lyric The classical lyric  

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