The sonnet form is one of the most important Russian verse forms of the 19th century. It was inspired by the features of traditional Shakespearean and Petrarchan sonnets, but it has its own unique elements.
Explore the Onegin Stanza
Onegin Stanza Definition
Readers who are familiar with other sonnet forms will immediately recognize the poet’s use of fourteen lines as the most traditional feature. Additionally, William Shakespeare is famous for his use of a closing couplet in his Shakespearean or Elizabethan sonnet.
In other sonnet forms, such as Shakespearean and Petrarchan sonnets, the turn appears either between the twelfth and thirteenth lines or between the eighth and ninth lines.
The sonnet follows a rhyme scheme of aBaBccDDeFFeGG. This unusual pattern uses uppercase and lowercase letters to indicate the use of feminine and masculine rhymes. Feminine rhymes occur in the second to last, or penultimate, syllable in the last word of a line. Masculine rhymes occur in the final, or ultimate, syllable of the last word of a line.
The sonnet form also uses a metrical pattern known as iambic tetrameter. This means that throughout the poem, the poet uses lines that consist of eight syllables which can be divided into sets of two, known as feet. These feet contain one stressed and one stressed syllable.
Who Invented the Onegin Stanza?
The Onegin stanza was invented by the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. He was born in June 1799 in Moscow and died in January 1837 at the age of 37. He is best known for the literary work in which readers can find the first examples of a Onegin stanza—Eugene Onegin.
The book is a novel written in verse that is considered to be one of the most important pieces of Russian literature. It was published in serial form between 1825 and 1832. The first complete edition did not appear until 1833. Throughout the book, readers can find 389 fourteen-line sonnet stanzas. Throughout, Pushkin demonstrates a unique sonnet form that uses iambic tetrameter, feminine, and masculine rhymes. This is sometimes also known as a Pushkin sonnet.
Examples of Onegin Stanzas
Without a doubt, the best examples of the stanza form come from the first work in which it was used—Eugene Onegin. The novel was published as a serial in the mid-1800s by Alexander Pushkin and is now considered to be one of the most important works of Russian literature. Throughout the novel, Pushkin utilizes fourteen-line stanzas that create a book in verse form. For example, take a look at the first stanza of the book, as translated to English by Lieut.-Col. Henry Spalding:
My uncle’s goodness is extreme,
If seriously he hath disease;
He hath acquired the world’s esteem
And nothing more important sees;
A paragon of virtue he!
But what a nuisance it will be,
Chained to his bedside night and day
Without a chance to slip away.
Ye need dissimulation base
A dying man with art to soothe,
Beneath his head the pillow smooth,
And physic bring with mournful face,
To sigh and meditate alone:
When will the devil take his own!
It’s quite easy to read through this English language translation and pick out the perfect end rhymes that Pushkin used. For example, in the first four lines, readers can find examples of the traditional pattern of feminine and masculine rhymes. The first line ends with the word “extreme,” in the third line ends with the word “esteem,” representing the first example in the novel of feminine rhymes. The words “disease” and “sees” are masculine rhymes that follow. (It should be noted as with all translations, much of the rhyme scheme and the metrical pattern are at risk of being lost.) Here is another stanza from later on in the novel:
How soon he learnt to titillate
The heart of the inveterate flirt!
Desirous to annihilate
His own antagonists expert,
How bitterly he would malign,
With many a snare their pathway line!
But ye, O happy husbands, ye
With him were friends eternally:
The crafty spouse caressed him, who
By Faublas in his youth was schooled,
And the suspicious veteran old,
The pompous, swaggering cuckold too,
Who floats contentedly through life,
Proud of his dinners and his wife!
It is fairly easy to find the other elements of the Pushkin sonnet when analyzing any stanzas of verse from this poem/novel. For example, the second quatrain includes two complete couplets, and the lines are written and iambic tetrameter.
Discover more Alexander Pushkin poetry.
The rhyme scheme of a Pushkin sonnet, or Onegin sonnet, is perhaps the most complicated feature of the first form. The poet uses the following pattern: aBaBccDDeFFeGG. The uppercase and lowercase letters correspond with feminine and masculine rhymes.
The important features of the Onegin sonnet stanza include the rhyme scheme, the fact that the poem can be divided into three sets of four lines and one closing couplet, and the use of iambic tetrameter. In contrast to other sonnet forms, the poet chose to use “tetrameter” rather than “pentameter.” This decreases the number of syllables per line.
Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin contains a total of 389 stanzas. These are written in a verse form that he popularized and invented, known today as the Pushkin stanza or the Onegin stanza. It contains fourteen lines, uses iambic tetrameter and a unique rhyme scheme consisting of masculine and feminine rhymes.
Related Literary Terms
- Burns Stanza: named for Scottish poet Robert Burns who popularized its use. It is a six-line stanza form that uses a rhyme scheme of AAABAB, and lines of tetrameter and dimeter.
- Chaucerian Stanza: also known as rhyme royal, is a stanza form introduced by English poet Geoffrey Chaucer. It’s seven lines long and uses the rhyme scheme ABABBCC.
- Horatian Ode: one of three common ode forms. It is a simple stanza form in which all stanzas use the same pattern, chosen by the poet.
- Hymn Stanza: uses a rhyme scheme of ABCB and alternates between iambic trimeter and iambic tetrameter.
- Ottava Rima: used to describe a particular type of stanza in poetry. It uses eight iambic lines and follows a rhyme scheme of ABABABCC.