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Petrarchan or Italian Sonnet

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Explore the Craft of Writing Poetry
The Sonnet
Sonnet Comparison Chart
Italian Verse

The Petrarchan Sonnet, also called the Italian Sonnet is one of the two dominant sonnet forms, the other being the English or Shakespearean sonnet. Both have weathered the corruption of time. The Petrarchan Sonnet came on the heels of the first sonnet form, the Sicilian Sonnet which is rarely seen in today's literature. The more popular Italian or Petrarchan Sonnet built on the Sicilian form and converted the original alternating rhyme octave to an octave made up of 2 envelope rhymed quatrains and the alternating rhymed sestet to a sestet made up of 2 tercets with rhyme options of chained, envelope or alternating.

In the 14th century the Italian poet, Francesco Petrarch wrote a series of Love Sonnets to Laura, evolving the sonnet from a love song of platonic relationship or veneration of God to show the sonnet as the perfect vehicle for expounding on the wonders and pitfalls of romantic love.

  • A Crown of Sonnets is a series of 7 Petrarchan Sonnets linked by repetition of the last line of each sonnet as the first line of the next sonnet and the last line of the seventh and last sonnet is the first line of the first sonnet.
  • A Wreath of Sonnets, like the Crown of Sonnets, is a series of Petrarchan Sonnets. But in a "wreath" there are 14 Sonnets linked by repeating the last line of the previous sonnet as the first line of the next sonnet and the first line of the first sonnet is the last line of the last sonnet. Wreath of Sonnets. (Thanks to Aleks for finding this form and a beautiful example for your reading pleasure.)

The elements of the Italian or Petrarchan Sonnets are:

  1. a single quatorzain made up of an octave followed by a sestet.
  2. composed with the octave presenting an idea, problem or question, followed by a sestet finding the solution or resolution.
  3. metered, iambic pentameter.
  4. rhymed with 5 rhymes or less. The octave made up of 2 envelope quatrains turned on only 2 rhymes abbaabba is followed by a sestet made up of 2 tercets with a choice of envelope cdccdc, chained cdecde or alternate rhyme cdcdcd.
  5. composed with a volta (non physical gap) or pivot (a shifting or tilting of the main line of thought) between the octave and the sestet. The epiphany (manifestation or realization) unravels slowly from octave to sestet.
    I will put Chaos into fourteen lines

    And keep him there; and let him thence escape
    If he be lucky; let him twist, and ape
    Flood, fire, and demon--his adroit designs
    Will strain to nothing in the strict confines
    Of this sweet Order, where, in pious rape,
    I hold his essence and amorphous shape,
    Till he with Order mingles and combines.
    Past are the hours, the years, or our duress,
    His arrogance, our awful servitude:
    I have him. He is nothing more than less
    Than something simple not yet understood;
    I shall not even force him to confess;
    Or answer. I will only make him good.
                ----- Edna St Vincent Millay (1892-1950)

    On His Blindness by John Milton (1608-1674)

    When I consider how my light is spent,
    Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
    And that one Talent which is death to hide,
    Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent
    To serve therewith my Maker, and present
    My true account, least he returning chide,
    Doth God exact day-labour, light denied,
    I fondly ask; But patience to prevent
    That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need
    Either man's work or his own gifts, who best
    Bar his milde yoak, they serve him best, his State
    Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
    And post o're Land and Ocean without rest:
    They also serve who only stand and waite.
    My attempt at a 20 minute sonnet challenge in the Playground using the Petrarchan form.

    Writing in the Dark by judi Van Gorder

    It's midnight and the race is on to write
    a sonnet, little song with sounds that please
    and fits the frame of Petrarch with some ease.
    A tome in meter tests my brain at night
    and strains the eyes adjusting to the light.
    A wonder I've not fallen to my knees,
    can't even give the time it takes to sneeze
    as desparation keeps the tempo tight.

    How do these others play the challenge game,
    the tune that poets carry in their heads
    unique to each alone is valued gold.
    I'll have to read and learn them all by name,
    but time ticks on and they are in their beds
    while I am writing words and getting cold.


Next, the sonnet goes to England

Wyatt/Surrey Sonnet

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