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14 Jun 2011

How to Write a Petrarchan Sonnet

The Petrarchan sonnet, also known as the Italian sonnet, originated in Italy in the 13th Century and was associated with the Italian poet Francesco Petrarch.

In its basic definition, a sonnet is a rhyming poem of fourteen lines with ten syllables per line, generally written in iambic pentameter meaning there is the rhythm ti-tum; ti-tum; ti-tum. Although there are many different varieties, the two most common variations of sonnets are; the English sonnet- popularised by William Shakespeare, and the Italian sonnet - or the Petrarchan sonnet as it's commonly known as due to the first major practitioner Francesco Petrarch. In this workshop we focus on the Petrarchan sonnet (the Shakesperean Sonnet is featured separately).

It is a sonnet in its classic form and tends to split into two sections, known as octave (eight-lined stanza) and sestet (six-lined stanza). The octave has two quatrains, rhyming a-b-b-a, a-b-b-a; the first quatrain presents the theme, the second develops it. The sestet is built on two or three different rhymes, arranged either c-d-e-c-d-e or c-d-c-d-c-d or c-d-e-d-c-e; the first three lines reflect on the theme and the last three lines bring the whole poem to a close.

To summarise your rhyme scheme options are:

a b b a a b b a c d e c d e 


a b b a a b b a c d c d c d 


a b b a a b b a c d e d c e.

Here is an example by John Milton:

How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth, (a)
Stolen on his wing my three and twentieth year! (b)
My hasting days fly on with full career, (b)
But my late spring no bud or blossom shew'th. (a)
Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth, (a)
That I to manhood am arrived so near, (b)
And inward ripeness doth much less appear, (b)
That some more timely-happy spirits indu'th. (a)
Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow, (c)
It shall be still in strictest measure even (d)
To that same lot, however mean or high, (e)
Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heaven. (d)
All is, if I have grace to use it so, (c)
As ever in my great Task-master's eye. (e)

When writing a Petrarchan sonnet the proposition is put forward and developed within the first eight lines, and the solution / reconciliation is within the final six lines.

If you've enjoyed this poetry writing workshop on odes, do have a look at the other workshops on offer in our poetry writing workshop section.

Why not submit your poem to us - Forward Poetry, Remus House, Coltsfoot Drive, Woodston, Peterborough PE2 9BF. Alternatively, upload or email your submission to us at inbox@forwardpoetry.co.uk.

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