What is a Petrarchan Sonnet?

Do you barely know what Petrarchan sonnet means? That is not a problem, learn about Petrarchan Sonnets with examples here.

Petrarchan sonnet


This poetic style existed long before Barrett’s time in nineteenth-century England. Sonnets can be traced back to the Italian Renaissance in the form known as the Petrarchan Sonnet.


What is a Petrarchan Sonnet?

The Petrarchan Sonnet is named after the Italian poet Francesco Petrarch, a fourteenth-century Italian lyrical poet. The poetic form that bears his name was not invented by Petrarch.

Giacomo da Lentini, who wrote poetry in the literary Sicilian dialect in the thirteenth century, is widely regarded as the sonnet’s creator.

The term “sonnet” comes from the Italian word “sonetto,” which comes from the Latin “suono,” which means “sound.” From Dante Alighieri to Michelangelo, many Italian poets experimented with the form.

Petrarch, regarded as one of the founding scholars of the Italian Renaissance, is most likely credited with perfecting the existing sonnet form.


Structure of a Petrarchan Sonnet

The following core elements define the Petrarchan sonnet:

1. There are fourteen lines of poetry in it.

2. The lines are divided into an eight-line subsection (referred to as an octave) and a six-line subsection (called a sestet).

3. The octave follows the ABBA ABBA rhyme scheme. This means that the first, fourth, fifth, and eighth lines all rhyme. The second, third, sixth, and seventh lines all rhyme similarly.

4. In the “Crybin” variant of the Petrarchan sonnet, the opening octave has a different rhyme scheme: ABBA CDDC.

5. The sestet is rhymed in one of two ways. CDE CDE scheme is more common (were the ninth and twelfth, tenth and thirteenth, and eleventh and fourteenth lines rhyme).

6. CDC CDC is the other sestet rhyme scheme (where the ninth, eleventh, twelfth, and fourteenth lines rhyme; and the tenth and thirteenth lines rhyme). It is also known as the “Sicilian sestet,” after the dialect used by Petrarch himself.


What Poets are Known for their Petrarchan Sonnets?

Dante’s Italian sonnets occasionally deviated from the traditional Petrarchan rhyme scheme. Dante loved the “terza rima” technique, which involves interlocking three-line rhymes.

These are organized as follows: DED ABA BCB CDC

In England, Petrarchan sonnets were extremely popular. “Sonnet 43” by Robert Browning is a Petrarchan sonnet.

William Wordsworth and Sir Thomas Wyatt are two other English-language poets who used the Petrarchan form.

Meanwhile, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, rose to prominence for translating Italian Petrarchan sonnets into English, but he did not use the form when writing his own English sonnets.


What is the Distinction Between a Petrarchan and a Shakespearean Sonnet?

The primary distinction between a Shakespearean sonnet and a Petrarchan sonnet is the arrangement of the poem’s fourteen lines.

The Petrarchan sonnet is divided into an octave (eight lines) and a sestet (six lines).


Petrarchan Sonnet Example

The collected works of Petrarch are the touchstone of the Italian language Petrarchan sonnets. English translations of his work are still widely read today.

Consider the following translation of Petrarch’s “Sonnet 227” by A.S. Kline:

Breeze, blowing that blonde curling hair, stirring it, and being softly stirred in turn, scattering that sweet gold about, then gathering it, in a lovely knot of curls again,

 you linger around bright eyes whose loving sting pierces me so, till I feel it and weep, and I wander searching for my treasure, like a creature that often shies and kicks:

 now I seem to find her, now I realise she’s far away, now I’m comforted, now despair, now longing for her, now truly seeing her.

 Happy air, remain here with your living rays: and you, clear running stream, why can’t I exchange my path for yours?

Petrarchan sonnet verses frequently frame a specific topic or argument of the sonnet, which is often presented as a question.

The opening octave in the preceding example offers a “proposition” that poses the problem at hand. The final sestet then offers a resolution.

The “volta,” found at the top of the sestet, is the ninth line of Petrarch’s sonnet. It literally translates to “the turn.”

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