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The Italian Sonnet

Posted by Emily Isaacson on January 3, 2013 at 7:00 AM Comments comments (0)

The Italian sonnet is divided into two sections by two different groups of rhyming sounds. The first 8 lines is called the octave and rhymes:

a b b a a b b a

The remaining 6 lines is called the sestet and can have either two or three rhyming sounds, arranged in a variety of ways:

c d c d c d

c d d c d c

c d e c d e

c d e c e d

c d c e d c

The exact pattern of sestet rhymes (unlike the octave pattern) is flexible. In strict practice, the one thing that is to be avoided in the sestet is ending with a couplet (dd or ee), as this was never permitted in Italy, and Petrarch himself (supposedly) never used a couplet ending; in actual practice, sestets are sometimes ended with couplets (Sidney's "Sonnet LXXI given below is an example of such a terminal couplet in an Italian sonnet). The point here is that the poem is divided into two sections by the two differing rhyme groups. In accordance with the principle (which supposedly applies to allrhymed poetry but often doesn't), a change from one rhyme group to another signifies a change in subject matter. This change occurs at the beginning of L9 in the Italian sonnet and is called the volta, or "turn"; the turn is an essential element of the sonnet form, perhaps the essential element. It is at the volta that the second idea is introduced.


Here is my first Italian sonnet, contained in house of rain.


When turns the weather to a fierce grey storm

we plunge into the cover of the trees

we reign in all our damp with leaf-light’s keys

we take a liking to our dry thrift form

and for clothing, branches spar decorum

while flowers decorate the hair, and bees

dance smitten o’er the green treacherously,

now creatures of the woodland and the morn—

we once wore dress within the looking glass

and talked in shadows of the evening’s lace

the sun-filled hours were traipsing to the dance

in diametric meter of the class

we spun to charity of solemn face

and bowed to light, enamored in this spance.