Incredibly, the first sonnet in English was written by a woman in 1560. Her name was Anne Locke (c. 1530-1590). I'd never heard of her until two or three weeks ago, while researching sonnets. All this time, I had believed that William Shakespeare, the Bard, had invented the English sonnet.
According to Interesting Literature, the Bard wrote his sonnets thirty years after Anne Locke's version. Thirty years! Basically, she is known to English scholars and unknown to the rest of us. Perhaps the reason for her obscurity is that, in her time, she risked imprisonment or death by writing poetry. After that, she may have been bypassed because she was a woman. In any case, today let us give her the due recognition. Read about her life at
As for her sonnets, they make for terse reading--of interest to very few people today besides literary scholars because the language is in Elizabethan English (complete with spelling):
And then not daring with presuming eye
Once to beholde the angry heauens face,
From troubled sprite I send confused crye,
To craue the crummes of all sufficing grace.
With foltring knee I fallyng to the ground,
Bendyng my yelding handes to heauens throne,
Poure forth my piteous plaint w[ith] woefull sound,
With smoking sighes, & oft repeted grone,
Before the Lord, the Lord, whom synner I,
I cursed wretch, I haue offended so,
That dredyng, in his wrekefull wrath to dye,
And damned downe to depth of hell to go,
Thus tost with panges and passions of despeir,
Thus craue I mercy with repentant chere.
That said, you can read all of Anne Locke's 26 sonnets at http://www.luminarium.org/renascence-editions/locke2.html .
Lastly, for a really interesting list of women poets who wrote sonnets in English over several centuries, visit https://interestingliterature.com/2016/12/14/10-of-the-best-sonnets-by-female-poets/.
Number one on the list is, of course, Anne Locke.
--Yolanda A. Reid
Yolanda A. Reid is the author of two novels and a debut poetry collection, entitled Sonnets to the Japim Bird.