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A Sonnet is a Moment’s Monument

Page history last edited by Matt Buendia 15 years, 8 months ago

by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1881)


A Sonnet is a moment's monument— A

     Memorial from the soul's eternity B

     To one dead deathless hour. Look that it be, B

Whether for lustral rite or dire portent, A

Of its own intricate fulness reverent: A

     Carve it in ivory or in ebony, B

     As Day or Night prevail; and let Time see B

It's flowering crest impearled and orient.[1] A


A Sonnet is a coin: its face reveals C

     The soul,—its converse, to what Power 'tis due: D

Whether for tribute to the august appeals C

     Of Life, or dower in Love's high retinue,[2] D


It serve; or, 'mid the dark wharf's cavernous breath, E

In Charon's palm it pay the toll to Death.[3] E



  1. Rossetti says in the second line of the poem that a poem is a "memorial," or in other words, a symbol of the poet's soul that will live on forever. He continues the idea of immorality in the last two lines of this stanza when he explains that throughout time, the poem will "sparkle" in people's lives. The process of writing a poem is explained in line 4 when he explains that the poet must decide whether to write a poem that cleanses the soul or one that is an ominous warning to those who read it. These are the two main ideas that Rossetti presents in the first stanza- the immorality of the poet through poetry and the process of writing the actual poem.
  2. This stanza brings a reflection onto the idea behind the sonnet. It brings the issue between the two contrasting aspects of the process of writing, the two sides of the coin. The soul represents one side, which represents the heart or deep meaning behind the poem, where the other aspects portray power. It urges the question of which is more important, the expansive nature of the immortality of the poem, or the specific, personal love and passion put forth into the poem by the author.
  3. This sonnet is unique in that it ends with a couplet, like a Shakespearean sonnet, but otherwise follows the structure of a Petrarchan sonnet. The couplet does not present an argument to unify the building images of preceding lines, as it would in an English sonnet; rather, it builds upon the idea of the sonnet's purpose and its ultimate fate when the poet dies. At this point, the "turn" in the sonnet has already occurred when metaphorically flips the coin to discuss the universal forces behind the sonnet. The couplet's subject matter moves the sonnet past the temporal moment which inspired it and gives another perspective to the sonnet of which the sonnet speaks by hinting at its immortality.

Comments (3)

Chelsea Platt said

at 3:50 pm on Oct 20, 2008

This poem does not follow the traditional form and rhyme of either the English or Italian sonnet. It, in fact, combines the two. The first stanza, the octave, follows the Italian rhyme, but the remaining six lines follow the English rhyme. Generally, the octave in the Italian sonnet presents a problem, argument or situation. That is what Rossetti does in this sonnet. The first stanza presents the poet's process of writing a sonnet, and the desire of the poet to become immortal through the poem. This stanza is not reflective of the Rossetti's view, but presents a more general view of writing poetry.

Nicole Azores-Gococo said

at 1:05 am on Oct 21, 2008

Like other poets who write about the process of writing poetry, Rossetti places emphasis on the containment of an inexpressible form of inspiration. The sonnet immortalizes a single moment, but in the process of writing it is aware, even "reverent" of the many dimensions it encompasses. Rossetti indicates that all sonnets have a dual nature; in this sonnet, he explicitly makes the transition from the poem's face value to its deeper source, a turn for which the Italian form is appropriate because it allows clarity of thought. The addition of the traditionally English couplet, however, reminds us that the poem began with the English focus on observation of images within a single moment. Thus this sonnet accomplishes what it describes: it embodies the initial, material inspiration behind a sonnet and the implicit desire for larger meaning in its lines.

Matt Buendia said

at 4:51 pm on Oct 21, 2008

At the beginning of the second stanza, the poem shifts from the general view of writing to more of a reflective state. It begins to reveal the aspects of a sonnet that represent meaning and starts to determine the function of those characteristics. Even though the final six lines are composed of a quatrain and couplet, it still correlates to the Italian sonnet because both the quatrain and couplet create a strong reflection on the octave. It discusses the specific reasons and reflections of the elements of a sonnet, as opposed to the literal face value characteristics seen in the first stanza.

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