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What Is Renaissance Poetry?

By B. Turner
Updated May 23, 2024
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Renaissance poetry includes a variety of artistic writings completed during the Renaissance in Europe. This period, which lasted from the 14th century to the start of the 17th century, was characterized by a focus on the arts. Some people consider poetry from this time period to be among the greatest ever created, while others celebrate it as a transition between poetic styles of the Middle Ages and modern times. This poetry was heavily influenced by the classical style of the ancient Romans and Greeks, but also invoked the issues and beliefs of the European people during this time period.

Poetry from the Renaissance could be written about almost any topic, but generally focused on a few select topics that were of high interest at the time. For example, many poets wrote about human development and education, which was inspired by the humanist movement. These poems focused on human emotions and feelings in the present time, and were a departure from earlier styles that emphasized changes in emotion over time. A great deal of Renaissance poetry is inspired by love or passion, with many poets dedicating works to their love interests.

Court poets were also a major factor during the Renaissance. Kings and queens hired poets to tell their own family history, or to entertain the court with songs and poems. This led to many poems about politics, as well as how these politics influenced the human condition. Poetry from this period also incorporated topics ranging from Christianity to classical antiquity.

The first Renaissance poetry was written in Italy and was often set to music. This musical poetry was a natural extension of the traveling minstrels of the previous centuries. These poems and songs were known as chansons or madrigals, and took many forms.

Sonnets also served as one of the most popular forms of the time, particularly in England. The English used the term "sonnet" to refer to any short poem of the period, which includes the modern 14-line sonnet with its strict rhyming pattern. Many famous poets of the time wrote series of connected sonnets, which continued the same theme or story throughout several works. While less common, the epic poem was also popular during the Renaissance.

Italian Francesco Petrach, who lived during the 14th century, is often referred to as the first writer of the Renaissance. English poet Mary Herbert is one of the few women who is still celebrated for her poetry, despite the fact that many women contributed to the arts during this period. Thomas Campion of England is still known for his poems, which were known for their musical tone, while Christopher Marlowe produced many famous sonnets. Of course, one of the most famous of all Renaissance poets was William Shakespeare, who wrote dozens of sonnets in addition to his many plays.

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