The Petrarchan or Italian Sonnet


Basic features & history of the verse form:
Number of lines 14
Structure / divisions Octave / sestet
Rhyme scheme abba / abba / cdecde or
abba / abba / cdccdc
Meter In English, usually iambic pentameter
Refrain line or lines No
Time / place of origin 13th-century Italy
Medieval / Renaissance poets
  associated with this form
Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch), John Donne
Examples written in English
  by or before —
16th century (Wyatt, Surrey)


An example of a Petrarchan sonnet:

Qual Donna Attende A Gloriosa Fama
by Francesca Petrarca (Petrarch — 1304-1374)
Translated by Thomas Wentworth Higginson

      1  (a)  Doth any maiden seek the glorious fame
      2  (b)  Of chastity, of strength, of courtesy?
      3  (b)  Gaze in the eyes of that sweet enemy
      4  (a)  Whom all the world doth as my lady name!
      5  (a)  How honour grows, and pure devotion's flame,
      6  (b)  How truth is joined with graceful dignity,
      7  (b)  There thou may'st learn, and what the path may be
      8  (a)  To that high heaven which doth her spirit claim;
      9  (c)  There learn soft speech, beyond all poet's skill,
    10  (d)  And softer silence, and those holy ways
    11  (e)  Unutterable, untold by human heart.
    12  (c)  But the infinite beauty that all eyes doth fill,
    13  (d)  This none can copy! since its lovely rays
    14  (e)  Are given by God's pure grace, and not by art.


A Brief Guide to Some Medieval and Renaissance Verse Forms

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Table and its contents copyright 2002 by Jennifer M. Tom    ( Jennifer Monroe Franson )