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QG-Sonnets-art - 1/22/17


"Sonnets - a quick guide" by mistress katherine kerr.


NOTE: See also the files: poetry-msg, Poetic-Forms-art, Nors-Epc-Vrse-art, medvl-poetry-lnks, Iambic-Pent-art, Goliard-Poets-bib, AS-Prase-Poem-art.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



You can find more work by this author on her website at:



Sonnets -- a quick guide

by mistress katherine kerr


Sonnets are of fouretene lynes, every line conteyning tenne syllables. The firste twelve do ryme in staves of foure lines by crosse meetre, and the last two ryming togither do conclude the whole.

George Gascoigne, Certain Notes of Instruction (1575)


Essential characteristics :

• 14 lines, iambic pentameter: five sets of syllables with 10 in total, alternating weak/strong stresses

• Emotional content: the problem of unrequited love, desire vs virtue

• A volta (lit: "turn"), which signals the problem's resolution, change of approach/focus ("Yet", "But")

• Stock metaphors: love as a battle, chain of being,

• Use of paradox: contrasting experiences (ice and fire)

• Allusions to classical mythology: comparisons with gods and demi-gods and their experiences

• Repetition, alliteration and assonance

• Overall thematic device, such as a repeating line, metaphor, or idea


Italian or Petrarchan Sonnet

Sonnets originated in Italy in the 12-13th centuries. Dante and Petrarch (1307-1374),  are the most famous Italian sonneteers, with Petrarch encouraging very secular topics following his many sonnets concerning his love for the unattainable Laura.


One Octave : eight lines, abbaabba, setting up a problem

One Sestet: six lines, cdedce or cdcdcd, cddcdc, cdecde, cdeced, cdcedc, resolving the problem  


The change from the octave to the sestet is called the volta, or turn, and represents the change in focus. Petrarchian sonnets did not use rhyming couplets, though the example cited overleaf from Sir Philip Sydney (1554-1586) breaks this rule. This is not an easy form in "rhyme poor" English (Miller), so the octet rhyming pattern was often changed to abbaacca to make it easier.


English Sonnets

The first English sonneteer was Thomas Wyatt (1503-1543), who wrote 32 sonnets. His contemporary Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, deviated more widely of the Petrarchan mark and is credited with developing the English or Elizabethan sonnet form, the most famous exemplar of which being Shakespeare.


Spenserian Sonnet

Invented by Edmund Spenser based on the stanza pattern he used in The Faeire Queene.


Three Quatrains: three groups of four lines, abab bcbc cdcd  

One Couplet: two lines, ee  


Each quatrain develops a specific idea, with the overlapping rhymes linking the main unit in a series of distinct but closely related ideas, with a separate final couplet providing a commentary.


English, Elizabethan or Shakespearian Sonnet.

The simplest of all sonnets, calling for only pairs of rhyming words rather than groups of four, and also the most flexible in terms of the placement of the volta, typically at L9 (as in the Petrarchan) or at the couplet.  


Three Quatrains: three groups of four lines, abab cdcd efef

One Couplet: two lines, gg


Typically involves a three-part argument and conclusion; or three examples of the problem posed, with a resolution or comment in the couplet.



Miller, Nelson; Basic Sonnet Forms: http://www.sonnets.org/basicforms.htm


Rosemounde of Mercia; The Elizabethan Sonnet : http://webpages.charter.net/wildrose/Articlefolder/elizabethan_sonnet.htm


Sonnet Central: http://www.sonnets.org/index.htm




Petrarchan Sonnet: Sonnet LXXI, Sir Philip Sidney


Who will in fairest book of Nature know  

How Virtue may best lodged in Beauty be,  

Let him but learn of Love to read in thee,  

Stella, those fair lines, which true goodness show.  

There shall he find all vices' overthrow,  

Not by rude force, but sweetest sovereignty  

Of reason, from whose light those night-birds fly;

That inward sun in thine eyes shineth so.  

And not content to be Perfection's heir  

Thyself, dost strive all minds that way to move,  

Who mark in thee what is in thee most fair.  

So while thy beauty draws the heart to love,  

As fast thy Virtue bends that love to good.

"But, ah," Desire still cries, "give me some food."


Sidney modified the Petrarchan, often following his octet with two tercets, as here (abbaabba cdc dee); the volta is not until the final line in this example.


Spenser: Sonnet LIV


Of this World's theatre in which we stay,  

My love like the Spectator idly sits,  

Beholding me, that all the pageants play,  

Disguising diversely my troubled wits.  

Sometimes I joy when glad occasion fits,  

And mask in mirth like to a Comedy;  

Soon after when my joy to sorrow flits,  

I wail and make my woes a Tragedy.  

Yet she, beholding me with constant eye,  

Delights not in my mirth nor rues my smart;  

But when I laugh, she mocks: and when I cry  

She laughs and hardens evermore her heart.  

What then can move her? If nor mirth nor moan,  

She is no woman, but a senseless stone.


Although the volta looks to be at L9 (as in Petrarchan mode), it is not in fact until the couplet.


Shakespere: Sonnet XXIX


When in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes,  

I all alone beweep my outcast state,  

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,  

And look upon myself and curse my fate,  

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,  

Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,  

Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,  

With what I most enjoy contented least,  

Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,  

Haply I think on thee, and then my state,  

(Like to the lark at break of day arising  

From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven's gate,  

For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings,  

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.


Volta at L9.


Copyright 2010 by Vicki Hyde. vicki at webcentre.co.nz. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org