The sonnet is a type of lyric poetry that started in Europe. After the 13th century, it began to signify a poem that had 14 lines which has an iambic pentameter meter: Iambic means that the first syllable is not stressed in each of the “feet,” the groups of syllables in poetry. The second one is stressed.

Who invented the sonnet?

A. Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet .

The sonnet was created by Giacomo da Lentini, head of the Sicilian School under Emperor Frederick II. Guittone d’Arezzo rediscovered it and brought it to Tuscany where he adapted it to his language when he founded the Neo-Sicilian School (1235–1294).

B. The Spenserian sonnet

This is invented by sixteenth century English poet Edmund Spenser, cribs its structure from the Shakespearean—three quatrains and a couplet—but employs a series of “couplet links” between quatrains, as revealed in the rhyme scheme: abab, bcbc, cdcd

C. Shakesperean Sonnet

Shakespeare’s Sonnets were first collected in book form in 1609. Among the most famous of the 154 sonnets is Sonnet 18, which includes the line, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

With three exceptions, all of Shakespeare’s sonnets follow traditional Elizabethan sonnet structure: three stanzas with ABAB rhyme schemes, followed by a couplet with an AA rhyme scheme.

Many of the sonnets explore the theme of love, including one of the most famous poems, Sonnet 18, in which the speaker compares his love to a summer’s day.

Shakespeare modifies the octet-sextet pattern of the Petrarchan sonnet to include three stanzas of four lines, allowing him to develop his themes in a subtler way.


Main  differences between Petrarchan and Shakespearean sonnets:

The Shakespearean Sonnet, or English Sonnet, is very different from the Petrarchan Sonnet. While the Shakespearean Sonnet consists of fourteen lines (like the Petrarchan Sonnet), the lines are divided into stanzas very differently.

This sonnet is composed using three quatrains (three stanzas consisting of four lines each) and a concluding couplet (a two line stanza). The rhyme scheme of this sonnet is alternating, throughout the quatrains, and ends in a rhyming couplet.
Therefore, the rhyme scheme of the Shakespearean Sonnet is as follows:

a b a b    c d c d       e f e f         g g

What is the main feature of Petrarchan Sonnets?

The Italian, or Petrarchan, Sonnet is written in iambic pentameter. The sonnet consists of fourteen lines, separated into an eight line stanza and a six line stanza. The first stanza (with eight lines) is called an octave and follows the following rhyme pattern:

a b b a a b b a.

The second stanza (consisting of six lines) is called a sestet and follows one of the following rhyme patterns:

c d c d c d c d e c d e c d e c e d c d c e d c

c d d c d c.

The final two lines cannot end in a couplet (given the couplet was never used in Italy or by Petrarch).

The change in both rhyme pattern and subject matter takes place by the creation of two distinct stanzas (the octave and the sestet). The change in rhyme and subject happen at the volta, the ninth line of the poem (the first line of the second stanza).


Sample Shakespearean Sonnet

Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Sample Petrarchan Sonnet:

William Wordsworth’s “London, 1802”

Octave – introduces the theme or problem

Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour: – A
England hath need of thee: she is a fen – B
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen, – B
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower, – A
Have forfeited their ancient English dower – A
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men; – B
Oh! raise us up, return to us again; – B
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power. – A

Sestet – solves the problem

Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart; – C
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea: – D
So didst thou travel on life’s common way , – E
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart – C
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free, – D
The lowliest duties on herself did lay. – E

Spenserian sonnet

Definition of Spenserian sonnet
: a sonnet in which the lines are grouped into three interlocked quatrains and a couplet and the rhyme scheme is abab, bcbc, cdcd, ee


By Edmund Spenser

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washed it away:
Again I write it with a second hand,
But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
Vain man, said she, that doest in vain assay,
A mortal thing so to immortalize,
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eek my name be wiped out likewise.
Not so, (quod I) let baser things 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 whenas death shall all the world subdue,
Our love shall live, and later life renew.

Source: Wikipedia