All you need to know about
the Italian Sonnet

This article discusses the basic structure of the Italian sonnet. 

I have heard a lot of hearsay about sonnets. Some of what I have heard is that a sonnet is one of the most exciting poems you can ever write, and I have also heard that everyone should write at least one sonnet in their lifetime.

So I set out to investigate this hearsay, so that I find out what it is about sonnets that is so intriguing. What I found is worth sharing with you.

A sonnet is a very structured poem. It consists of :

  1. fourteen lines
  2. a set meter that recurs in each line.
  3. a recognizable rhyme scheme.

There are two types of sonnets. There is the English Sonnet, and the Italian Sonnet. Obviously you are thinking that the difference between these two sonnets is that one is written in English, and the other in Italian. Actually, the difference is in the structure and has nothing to do with language. The Italian sonnet is called thus because its particular style and structure was first perfected by an Italian poet.

 

I have already discussed the English sonnet in another article. Check it out here:

The English Sonnet

Let us discuss the Italian sonnet, which by the way is also known as the Petrachan sonnet.

Like the English sonnet, each line in the Petrachan sonnet is usually written in the Iambic pentameter or any other appropriate pattern. Read the following article to learn more about the iambic pentameter and other metric patterns:

Rhythm and Meter

P.S: You many use any other metric pattern as long as you are able to stick to it. But I favour the iambic pentameter because it occurs almost naturally in the English language.

A line written in iambic pentameter has ten syllables, which syllables alternate in weak-strong patterns. To put it simply, the line should sound as follows:

 

ta – DA – ta – DA – ta – DA – ta – DA – ta - DA

 

In the above line, the  ta represents the weak syllable, whereas the DA represents the stressed syllable.

Here is a line from LJ Kundananji’s sonnet # 1. Try to sense the rhythm of the iambic pentameter in it:

 

A time there comes when love must be let go

 

This line, quite naturally, sounds like spoken English. That is the beauty of the iambic pentameter. Some poets say: “As long as you can say it in ten syallables, write it!”

Here is the same line, but with the stress pattern clearly shown (The stressed syllables are bold and uppercase):

 

A TIME there COMES when LOVE must BE let GO.

You got that? Let us proceed.

An Italian sonnet is divided into two parts: an octet (also known as an octave) , which is an eight line verse, and a sestet, a six line verse.

Take a look at LJ’s sonnet below and take note of the eight lined octet (in boldface) and six line sestet:

 

A time there comes when love must be let go;
When all desire one should forget, yes should
Abandon. There’s a time we shouldn’t keep hold;
A thistle of prickly’s embrace forgo,
Your bosom should it bruise an’ pierce you whole;
Sending thy soul to early, dreary end.
Your pure self guard with all you own and hold
For you’d do good if fatal love a-goes.

Yet should you swoon like vital wind without,
An’ crumble down like boneless jelly does,
An’ pine away your soul should truly do,
Then doeth that thou desires with thine all heart
For should you dare let go that love thou loves
Thou might let go of yours one only true.

 

The octet is the poet’s expression of a thought, a feeling, an image, an argument, or a conflict.  In the above sonnet, LJ expresses the thought that there is a time when it is necessary for one to let go of something loved, craved or desired, especially if that love would lead to undesirable consequences.

The sestet presents an image, thought, or feeling that either builds up or is in contrast to that of the octet. In the above sonnet, the sestet expresses the thought that if, after letting go, you are devastated emotionally, it is better to hold on to that love, because it might just be your one and only true love.

This is how the Italian Sonnet is structured  Now let us take a look at the Rhyme Scheme. It may help to revise this article first:

Rhyme Schemes

In the octet, the rhyme scheme is as follows:

ABBAABBA

This simply means that the first line rhymes with the the fourth, the fifth and eight; and the second line rhymes with the third, the sixth and the seventh. It is a pretty cool rhyme scheme, don’t you think?

In the above sonnet, the sestet, the rhyme scheme is as follows:

CDECDE

This means that the ninth line rhymes with the twelfth, the tenth with the thirteenth, and the eleventh with the fourteenth.

For the sestet, the rhyme scheme can also be: CDCDCD OR CDCDEE. Choose what works best for you.

The Italian poem is really an interesting form. It is not easy to write, but the end result is always worth it.

Try it now!

 



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