The Petrarchan sonnet, or the Italian sonnet, gets its name from the Italian poet Francesco Petrarca. Although he did not develop it by himself, but rather by a string of Renaissance poets. The word “sonnet” itself stems from the Italian word “sonetto,” which itself derives from the Latin “suono,” meaning “a sound.” Many Italian poets explored the form, from Dante Alighieri to Michelangelo.
Perfected by the Italian poet Petrarch, divides the 14 lines into two sections: an eight-line stanza (octave) rhyming ABBAABBA, and a six-line stanza (sestet) rhyming CDCDCD or CDECDE.
Francesco Petrarca popularized the form through 366 sonnets that he wrote about his love for a woman named Laura, who never returned his love. It is most well-known subject matter of ideal love, but it also has a specific form and other features.
These poems may also heap blame or scorn on a person, according to Dallas Baptist University. Whether the poem centers on love or blame, it typically makes an elaborate and lengthy comparison between a person and an thing or idea.
Example Of A Petrarchan Sonnet
The Grave of Keats by Oscar Wilde
Rid of the world’s injustice, and his pain,
He rests at last beneath God’s veil of blue:
Taken from life when life and love were new
The youngest of the martyrs here is lain,
Fair as Sebastian, and as early slain.
No cypress shades his grave, no funeral yew,
But gentle violets weeping with the dew
Weave on his bones an ever-blossoming chain.
O proudest heart that broke for misery!
O sweetest lips since those of Mitylene!
O poet-painter of our English Land!
Thy name was writ in water—it shall stand:
And tears like mine will keep thy memory green,
As Isabella did her Basil-tree.
The Petrarchan sonnet is characterized by the following core elements:
- It contains fourteen lines of poetry.
- The lines are divided into an eight-line subsection (called an octave) followed by a six-line subsection (called a sestet).
- The octave follows a rhyme scheme of ABBA ABBA. This means the first, fourth, fifth, and eighth lines all rhyme with one another. The second, third, sixth, and seventh lines similarly rhyme with one another.
- The “Crybin” variant on the Petrarchan contains a different rhyme scheme for the opening octave: ABBA CDDC.
- The sestet follows one of two rhyme schemes. The more common is a CDE CDE scheme (where the ninth and twelfth, tenth and thirteenth, and eleventh and fourteenth lines rhyme).
- The other sestet rhyme scheme is CDC CDC (where the ninth, eleventh, twelfth, and fourteenth lines rhyme; and the tenth and thirteenth lines rhyme). It is sometimes called the “Sicilian sestet,” named for the dialect used by Petrarch himself.
The primary difference between a Shakespearean sonnet and a Petrarchan sonnet is the way the poem’s fourteen lines are grouped. The Petrarchan sonnet divides its lines between an octave (eight lines) and a sestet (six lines). Learn more about the various types of rhyme here.