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Explore the Craft of Writing PoetryThe Sonnet / English Poetry


The Spenserian Sonnet was named for Edmund Spenser 1552-1599, a 16th century English Poet. The Spenserian Sonnet inherited the tradition of the declamatory couplet of Wyatt / Surrey although Spenser used Sicilian quatrains to develop a metaphor, conflict, idea or question logically, with the declamatory couplet resolving it.


Beyond the prerequisite for all sonnets, the defining features of the Spenserian Sonnet are:

  • a quatorzain made up of 3 Sicilian quatrains (4 lines alternating rhyme) and ending in a rhyming couplet
  • metric, primarily iambic pentameter.
  • rhymed, rhyme scheme ababbcbccdcdee.
  • composed with a volta (a non physical gap) or pivot (a shifting or tilting of the main line of thought) sometime after the 2nd quatrain. The epiphany is arrived at logically.
  • written with each quatrain developing a metaphor, conflict, idea or question, and the end declamatory couplet providing the resolution.


    Sonnet LXXV


    One day I wrote her name upon the strand,

    But came the waves and washed it away;

    Again I wrote it with a second hand,

    But came the tide and made my pains his prey.

    "Vain man," said she, "that dost in vain assay

    A mortal thing so to immortalize,

    For I myself shall like to this decay,

    And eke my name be wiped out likewise

    "Not so." quod I, "Let baser thing devise

    To die in dust, but you shall live by fame;

    My verse your virtues rare shall eternize

    And in the heavens write your glorious name,

    Where, when as death shall all the world subdue,

    Our love shall live, and later life renew."

    ------Sir Edmund Spenser




    Fresh Spring! the herald of Loves mighty king,

    In whose coat-armour richly are displayed

    All sorts of flowers, the which on earth do spring

    In goodly colours gloriously arrayed -

    Go to my love, where she is careless laid,

    Yet in her winters bower, not well awake;

    Tell her the joyous time will not be staid,

    Unless she do him by the forelock take:

    Bid her, therefore, herself soon ready make

    To wait on Love amongst his lovely crew,

    Where every one that misseth then her make,

    Shall be by him amerced with penance dew.

    Make haste, therefore, sweet Love! whilst it is prime;

    For none can call again the passed time.

    ---- Edmund Spenser 1552-1599

Next William Shakespearebrings popularity to the sonnet

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