Saturday, May 17, 2014

How to Write an Italian Sonnet

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     There are essentially two types of sonnets, the Italian sonnet, also known as the Petrarchan sonnet, and the English sonnet, also known as the Shakespearian sonnet. Today I will be covering the Italian sonnet, and I'll cover the English sonnet later.

     Italian sonnets, and any sonnet written in English for that matter, generally have iambic pentameter. What on earth does that mean?
     Well, to start, meter is the rhythm of a poem, and there are different ways of measuring that. Iambic means that you deal with syllables (rhythm is based in syllables) in pairs, the first syllable being unaccented and the second being accented. This means that more emphasis is being given to the second, fourth, sixth, etc. word of that line as compared to the first, third, etc.
     The whole emphasis part is rather hard to notice or cause while writing it, but it becomes important when you consider the word "pentameter", which has the same root as "pentagon". That means that you will have five such pairs per line. So, basically, you need ten syllables per line.
     Next, is the rhyme scheme. The Italian sonnet is made of two sections, or stanzas, the first having a ABBAABBA rhyme, which would be something like this:

I saw a bird upon the bough of a tree
His breast was red but his great wings were blue
His bright colors reminded me of you
I wish you could be here with me to see
This bird who reminds me of you and me
Because you know that our love was forever true
And this dear bird brings forth my pain anew
Wings your eyes and breast as your hair should be

     So, for every "A" in ABBAABBA, I have a line ending in the long "e" sound, and for every "B" I have something ending in the long "oo" sound. This is a quick love sonnet (well, the first stanza of it) that I whipped up for this, so as I have never been in love and I did this in minutes, it isn't as good as it ought to be. I added random adjectives like "great" to meet the syllable requirements, which isn't something you should do, but it will work as an illustration.
     The next stanza is more flexible. While it still should be in iambic pentameter, there are several rhyme scheme's you can use: CDCDCD, CDDCDC, CDECDE, CDECED, and CDCEDC. I'll give another example by completing the poem:

Ah, my dear, I shall never love again
If I can't have your blue eyes and red hair
Then I choose nothing, but to bear my pain
Alone and waiting for death to take me
To heaven, for I know that you are there
And have been, since the day that you were slain

     Here I used the last rhyme scheme, CDCEDC, with the "C"s being "ain", the "D"s being "air", and the "E" being "me". I hope this has helped you, and I'd love to see your Italian sonnets, in the comments or in future contests! Keep writing poems, keep trying new things, and keep hoping!

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK.

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