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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica


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QUATORZAIN (from Fr. quatorze, fourteen), the term used in English literature, as opposed to "sonnet," for a poem in fourteen rhymed iambic lines closing (as a sonnet strictly never does) with a couplet. The distinction was long neglected, because the English poets of the 16th century had failed to apprehend the true form of the sonnet, and called Petrarch's and other Italian poets' sonnets quatorzains, and their own incorrect quatorzains sonnets. Almost all the so-called sonnets of the Elizabethan cycles, including those of Shakespeare, Sidney, Spenser and Daniel, are really quatorzains. They consist of three quatrains of alternate rhyme, not repeated in the successive quatrains, and the whole closes with a couplet. A more perfect example of the form could hardly be found than the following, published by Michael Drayton in 1602: Dear, why should you commend me to my rest, When now the night doth summon all to sleep?

Methinks this time becometh lovers best; Night was ordained together friends to keep.

How happy are all other living things Which though the day conjoin by several flight, The quiet evening yet together brings, And each returns unto his love at night, 0 thou that art so courteous unto all, Why should'st thou, Night, abuse me only thus, That every creature to his kind dost call, And yet 'tis thou dost only sever us?

Well could I wish it would be ever day, If, when night comes, you bid me go away.

Donne, and afterwards Milton, fought against the facility and incorrectness of this form of metre and adopted the Italian form of sonnet. During the 19th century, most poets of distinction prided themselves on following the strict Petrarchan model of the sonnet, and particularly in avoiding the final couplet. In his most mature period, however, Keats returned to the quatorzain, perhaps in emulation with Shakespeare; and some of his examples, such as "When I have fears," "Standing aloof in giant ignorance," and "Bright Star," are the most beautiful in modern literature. The "Fancy in Nubibus," written by S. T. Coleridge in 1819, also deserves notice as a quatorzain of peculiar beauty.

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Quatorzain'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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