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Curtal Sonnet 

The curtal sonnet, or the contracted sonnet, is an eleven-line sonnet that follows a pattern of either ABCABCDCBDC or ABCABCDBCDC. 

This sonnet form was invented by the famed poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, best-known for poems like The Windhoverand ‘Inversnaid.’ These pieces do not follow the curtal sonnet form, but they are good examples of his work. The curtal sonnet is not a popular form today, but it is connected to Hopkins’ name. It is sometimes described as a ten-and-a-half-line sonnet due to the shortened final line. When describing the sonnet form, Hopkins famously used a mathematical formula. It reads: 

12/2+ 9/2= 21/2 = 10 1/2

The sections of the sonnet break down into these sections. The first six lines is 12/2, then the final four and a half lines result from the 9/2 division. Finally, adding these two together, one gets 21/2 which is reduced to 10 1/2. 

Today, critiques consider the curtal sonnet an interpretation of the classic sonnet form more than an entirely new form. Hopkins disagreed. 

Curtal Sonnet Pronunciation: khur-tuhll
Curtal Sonnet definition and examples


Curtal Sonnet Definition

A curtal sonnet is an eleven-line sonnet that was invented by Gerard Manley Hopkins. It follows a rhyme scheme of abcabc dcbdc or abcabc dbcdc. It has features that are similar to the most common sonnet forms, the Petrarchan and Shakespearean, but it’s also distinctly different. 

Most sonnets have fourteen lines and follow either a pattern of ABABCDCDEFEFGG (Shakespearean/Elizabethan pattern) or ABBAABBACDCD (with some alternate endings—Petrarchan/Italian sonnet). The curtal sonnet is not as long as these. Hopkins sonnet uses six lines as the first part of the poem, rather than the eight seen in the traditional fourteen-line sonnets. The second part of the poem uses four and a half lines rather than the traditional six. This sonnet form is also sometimes known as the contracted sonnet due to its shortened form. 

Examples of the Curtal Sonnet 

Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins 

‘Pied Beauty’ was written in 1877 and published many years later in 1918 as part of Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. This example of a curtal sonnet discusses beautiful things and eventually arrives at the conclusion that God, the creator of all of these things, is capable of creating paradoxes. The speaker references the opposites in the world. For example: 

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

Here are a few more lines from the first part of the poem that demonstrate how Hopkins used the first six lines of the curtal form:

Glory be to God for dappled things—
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
       For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
       And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

The poem ends with the speaker asking that one should praise God. He is steady while his creation is always changing. This is the poet’s way of emphasizing how beyond creation God is. 

Interestingly, this poem also uses Hopkins’ sprung rhyme, a form of meter that he chose to use rather than iambic pentameter or free verse in his sonnets. It, like the curtal sonnet, is mainly used today as a novelty. 

Sprung rhythm refers to the arrangement of stresses rather than syllables in a line of verse. The first syllable is stressed and is followed by a number of unstressed other syllables. That number can vary but is usually between one and four in Hopkins’s work.

Read more Gerard Manley Hopkins poems

Peace by Gerard Manley Hopkins 

‘Peace’ is one of the three examples of curtal sonnets in Hopkins’ work. The poem reads as follows: 

When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I’ll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?

O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.

The poet personifies Peace, asking when it’s going to come to him. It comes “sometimes,” he yields, but he wants it around him constantly. If it came, there’d be no more “daunting wars” and the deaths that result because of them. The final four and a half lines are a wonderful example of the form. The entire poem rhymes: ABCABB DCEDB.

Ash Boughs by Gerard Manley Hopkins 

‘Ash Boughs,’ also written as ‘Ash-Boughs,’ is the final of the three curtal sonnets Hopkins wrote during his life. The first six lines read:

Not of all my eyes see, wandering on the world,

Is anything a milk to the mind so, so sighs deep

Poetry to it, as a tree whose boughs break in the sky.

Say it is ashboughs: whether on a December day and furled

Fast ór they in clammyish lashtender combs creep

Apart wide and new-nestle at heaven most high.

He’s celebrating nature, specifically the ash bough, and the day that it breaks into the sky. “They touch heaven,” he says in the second part of the poem. 

FAQs 

Who introduced the curtal sonnet?

The curtal sonnet was invented by Gerard Manley Hopkins, who saw it as an entirely new sonnet form. Some critiques disagree with this assessment. 

What kind of sonnet is ‘Pied Beauty?’

‘Pied Beauty’ is a curtal sonnet, also known as a contracted sonnet. It has eleven lines, or ten and a half, depending on one’s analysis of the text.

How many types of sonnets are there?

There are many different types of sonnets, but the three primary kinds are the Shakespearean, Petrarchan, and Spenserian. 


Related Literary Terms 

  • Miltonic Sonnet: is one of the main sonnet forms and was popularized by the poet John Milton who was born in 1609 in London, England.
  • Petrarchan/Italian Sonnet: are fourteen lines long, follow an initial rhyme scheme of ABBAABBA, and use iambic pentameter.
  • Rhyme Scheme of Sonnets: usually conform to one of two different rhyme schemes, those connected to the Shakespearean and the Petrarchan sonnet forms.
  • Shakespearean Sonnet: a rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFGG and uses iambic pentameter. 


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