William Wordsworth’s “Scorn not the Sonnet” is an illustration of the history and evolution of the modern-day sonnet. This anthology of sorts compares the sonnet to musical instruments in different cases when speaking of different poets. Wordsworth references the major contributors to the sonnet as if they were producing a musical piece. This use of historical background helps to bring the entirety of the sonnet into realm. By comparing the development of the sonnet to the development of, say, a symphony, “Scorn not the Sonnet” shows the importance and beauty that each sonnet possesses.
Firstly, Wordsworth challenges the “Critic” of the sonnet (perhaps simply a person who does not see the significance of the work) to take a closer look at the development of the sonnet. The poem reads, “Scorn not the Sonnet; Critic, you have frowned, / Mindless of its just honours; with this key.” The second line of the poem suggests that the writing of a sonnet and its very beginning is essentially random and “spur of the moment”; often like the creation of a musical piece. The “key” that is chosen is often random and can be revised later in the creative process.
Wordsworth then begins to reference different poets, the pioneers of the sonnet. First there is Shakespeare, who “unlocked his heart”; illustrating that love is “the melody” or the motivating force behind a sonnet. Next, the poem brings in the sonnet’s ability to act as a coping method; just as “Petrarch’s wound” is healed through the sound of a small lute. Petrarch’s sonnets and his unrequited love, is indeed what this wound is alluding to.
Lastly, Wordsworth brings forth Milton, whose epic poem, Paradise Lost is near the greatest epics of English literature and perhaps of all time. This poetry is illustrated as a trumpet, one of the key-note, essential contributors of a symphony. Wordsworth writes, “Fell round the path of Milton, in his hand / The Thing became a trumpet; whence he blew / Soul-animating strains—alas, too few!” This comparison shows us the sheer capacity and enormity of Milton’s work and how it contributes the key part to the development and completion of the modern day sonnet. "Scorn not the Sonnet" encompasses the history of the sonnet and effectively communicates the complexity and significance of its past. The comparison between the creation of the sonnet and the production of a symphony shows the intricacies and beauty that both arts share, illustrating the connection between the two.