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Patterns of the Estonian sonnet from 1881–2015

Frequency, metre, rhyme schemes, authors

Patterns of the Estonian sonnet from 1881–2015: Frequency, metre, rhyme schemes, authors

Keywords: sonnet, Estonian poetry, metre, rhyme schemes

 

The article reports an attempt of multi-aspect analysis of the Estonian sonnet from its emergence in 1881 to 2015 (incl.). The research material covers all 4551 sonnets published in the Estonian language space. Diachronic analysis shows that despite the ever increasing number of sonnets their proportion in published poetry has decreased to the extent of becoming marginal by the 21st century. The metre of the Estonian sonnet is varied. Similarly to Germanic languages, a traditional Estonian sonnet uses iambic pentameter, yet this applies only to 58% of all sonnets. The runner-up (10%) is a metric pattern specific to Estonian: a few (mostly one to three) verse lines are in iambic hexameter while the rest are in iambic penta­meter. Seven percent of the sonnets use isometric iambic hexameter. The rest of the iambic sonnets (7%) use shorter or longer lines or combine other lengths. Notably, as many as 5% of Estonian sonnets are in free verse; 4% use accentual verse system. Trochaic sonnets form 4%, most of which use trochaic pentameters. As for syllabic-accentual triple measures, we can find dactyl, amphibrach as well as anapest (3% in total). Some sonnets even use a runic or syllabic measure.  

A separate section addresses the distribution of Estonian sonnet metres on the time axis. Comparative statistical analysis is used to highlight the tendencies characteristic of different periods, while the percentage of iambic pentameter is used to classify a period as more classic or, on the contrary, more avant garde.  In my study the history of the Estonian sonnet has been divided into seven periods: (1) the sonnet of post-national awakening 1881–1908, (2) the modernist sonnet 1909–1939, (3) early Soviet Estonian sonnet 1944–1961, (4) sonnets written in exile 1946–1986, (5) late Soviet Estonian sonnet 1962–1986, (6) the postmodernist sonnet 1987–1999, and (7) the post-postmodernist sonnet 2000–2015. The percentage of isometric iambic pentameter is highest (85%) in the sonnets written in exile and the lowest (40%) in the postmodernist era, showing a tendency for increase in the current 21st century (49%).

As far as rhymes are concerned, most of the Estonian sonnets follow the Italian model, while a mere 10% can be called English sonnets.

The English sonnet made a relatively late arrival, represented by single occurrences in the Estonian poetry before World War II. Their proportion is the highest among the sonnets written in postwar Soviet Estonia, where nearly one of every two sonnets (45%) follow the rhyme scheme abab/cdcd/efef/gg.

 

Rebekka Lotman (b. 1978), MA, doctoral student, University of Tartu, Institute of Cultural Research; Editor-in-Chief, Tallinn University Press (Narva mnt 25, 10120 Tallinn), rebekka.lotman@tlu.ee

 

 

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