An Italian sonnet is composed of an octave, rhyming abbaabba, and a sestet, rhyming cdecde or cdcdcd, or in some variant pattern, but with no closing couplet.
Usually, English and Italian Sonnets have 10 syllables per line, but Italian Sonnets can also have 11 syllables per line.
The Italian sonnet was created by Giacomo da Lentini, head of the Sicilian School under Frederick II. Guittone d’Arezzo rediscovered it and brought it to Tuscany where he adapted it to his language when he founded the Neo-Sicilian School (1235–1294). He wrote almost 300 sonnets. Other Italian poets of the time, including Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) and Guido Cavalcanti (c. 1250–1300) wrote sonnets, but the most famous early sonneteer was Petrarca (known in English as Petrarch).
The Italian sonnet includes two parts. First, the octave (two quatrains, or two groups of four lines), which describe a problem, followed by a sestet (two tercets, two groups of three lines), which gives the resolution to it. Typically, the ninth line creates a “turn” or volta, which signals the move from proposition to resolution. Even in sonnets that don’t strictly follow the problem/resolution structure, the ninth line still often marks a volta by signaling a change in the tone, mood, or stance of the poem.
In the sonnets of Giacomo da Lentini, the octave rhymed a-b-a-b, a-b-a-b; later, the a-b-b-a, a-b-b-a pattern became the standard for Italian sonnets. For the sestet there were two different possibilities, c-d-e-c-d-e and c-d-c-c-d-c. In time, other variants on this rhyming scheme were introduced such as c-d-c-d-c-d.
The first known sonnets in English, written by Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, used this Italian scheme, as did sonnets by later English poets including John Milton, Thomas Gray, William Wordsworth and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Note: In May 2013, I noticed that our own resident sonneteer, Eusebius had just written a series of Italian Sonnet that did have ending couplet rhyme. Investigating further I found that C.A.Smith also used that rhyme pattern at least once, in his poem “Belated Love”. Do dear poets, you are free to use ANY sextet rhyme pattern.
Following quote provided by Eusebius:
Poets adopting the Petrarchan sonnet form often adapt the form to their own ends to create various effects. These poets do not necessarily restrict themselves to the strict metrical or rhyme schemes of the traditional Petrarchan form; some use iambic hexameter, while others do not observe the octave-sestet division created by the traditional rhyme scheme. Whatever the changes made by poets exercising artistic license, no “proper” Italian sonnet has more than five different rhymes in it.
Tell Me of Your Anger in Whispers (Italian Sonnet)
Should you be moved to speak in anger, dear,
I ask that first you test your words alone.
If anger stems from blunder of my own
You’ll want to be assured your meaning’s clear.
Harsh words once thrown will travel like a spear.
We’ve both before said words we can’t disown,
They’re best unsaid than trying to attone.
The thoughts that form those words might disappear.
So hold those words for later; don’t despair
There’s nothing risked delaying words that grate.
My love, use whispers closely late tonight.
I’ll listen to your words- you know I’m fair.
So love, allow your anger to abate.
I love you dearly; I will make it right.
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