Analysing the Petrarchan Sonnet Form


Petrarchan sonnet form was made famous by Francesco Petraca. It consists of 14 lines divided into two parts without a line break which called Octave and Sestet. Both have regular rhyming schemes ABBAABBA and CDCDCD and written in iambic pentameter. Let’s discuss about each points as beginner students find these words are somewhat new and confusing. If you have further questions discuss it in the comment section. 




Octave

Consists of 8 lines (octave) and the end rhyme is ABBAABBA which is regular. The rhyming scheme is found by the sound of the end word of the poem. First sound each stanza is written as A; the second sound as B. If the same sound is repeated, you can use the same letter denoted by previous sound. (Look at the above example.)
Octave introduces a problem or situation which leads to conflict or doubt in the reader. Introduced in the 1st quatrain (first four lines) and developed in the second. In the above example: To the Nile by John Keats, poet questions the power of The Nile as a god which is fruitful pointing out that it flows through a barren desert. 

Volta

A change from one rhyme group to another, signifies a change in subject matter. Usually the main point or essential part of a sonnet. In a Petrarchan sonnet, this occurs between the octave and the sestet. In the above example: ‘O may dark fancies err! They surely do;’

Sestet

The last 6 lines of the poem. Rhyme scheme is CDCDCD or CDECDE or some combination of them. Purpose is to answer the question, solves the problem or comment on the perspective discussed in the Octave. 

iambic Pentameter

Meter is the sound metric in poems. If you clap your hands, it can be a meter which you measure the rhythm of the poem. Iamb is a similar sound which consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. For example: daDUM. ‘da’ is an unstressed syllable and DUM is the stressed syllable. 
In a line of a sonnet, there are five (penta) iambic feets(sounds). So, it is called an iambic pentameter. Hope you understood. Ex: daDUM daDum daDum daDum daDum. 
This means each line of sonnets will have ten syllables. You can count these out by clapping your hands or tapping your hand on your chest. You can test the above poem by breaking syllables first. You may refer to a dictionary to find syllables first.

Hope you have an idea of the basics of Petrarchan Sonnets. If you have any questions discuss It in the comment section.  

Related Posts:

  Line by Line Analysis of To the Nile by John Keats


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