Characteristics of the (Petrarchan) Sonnet


A fourteen-line poem in iambic pentameter. An iamb is a poetic foot with a count of two syllables, where the second one is stressed. Pentameter is a poetic line with five feet: E.g. "Loving /in truth, /and fain /in verse /my love /to show."

Three stanzas -- two quatrains and a sestet. A quatrain is a stanza of four lines; a sestet is a stanza of six lines. Traditionally the first quatrain introduces the subject, the second complicates the subject, and the sestet resolves or alters the subject in some way.

A rhyme scheme of abba abba in the quatrains, and cdc dcd with some variations in the sestet. Traditionally the poet seeks to make the rhymes in the seset as different as possible from the two quatrains. (cf. Petrarch's Sonnet # 61)

Conceit: an elaborate and surprising comparison between two apparently dissimilar things.

Metaphor/ Simile: a comparison of two unlike objects or an idea and an object. A simile makes the comparison in a less direct manner, using "like" or "as." E.g. "The wind is a hammer upon the eyelids of this coastland." "The wind is like a hammer . . ."

Blason: a poem that proceeds detail by detail in either praise or blame of an individual, often an extended set of metaphors and/or similes that build on descriptions of the body: "I conjure thee by Rosaline's bright eyes,/ By her high forehead and her scarlet lip,/By her fine foot, straight leg, and quivering thigh."

Personification: an attribution of human qualities to an idea, an inanimate object, or an animal. E.g. "Love caught me naked to his shaft . . ." "Whereon the Sun in pity veiled his glare."