The word “sonnet” means “little song” or “little sound.”
Sonnets can be Italian, with the lines being divided into a group of eight, called an octave and a group of six, called a sestet.
Giacomo da Lentini is responsible for creating the Italian sonnet. He penned almost 250 sonnets and others who wrote sonnets include Petrarca, Alighieri, Cavalcanti, and Michelangelo.
In an Italian sonnet, there is a “volta” or “turn” which signals the change from the proposition to its resolution. It usually appears in the ninth line.
The rhyme schemes for the octave in Lentini sonnets is a-b-a-b, a-b-a-b, but later, all sonnets were written with the a-b-b-a, a-b-b-a rhyme scheme. The sestet is either c-d-e-c-d-e or c-d-c-c-d-c. A later variation was c-d-c-d-c-d.
English or Shakespearean sonnet examples also have 14 lines, but are grouped differently. There are three quatrains, which have four lines each, followed by a couplet, which is two lines. The rhyme scheme is a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g.
In 1591, Sir Philip Sidney's sonnet Astrophel and Stella established the form of the English sonnet. Other notable authors are Spenser, Drayton, Greville, and, of course, Shakespeare. Even though Shakespeare did not create the sonnet, he was most prolific, writing 154 of them. In the English sonnet, the “volta” appears in the third quatrain.
The best way to understand the difference between Italian and English sonnets is to review examples of each.
The first is an Italian Sonnet by James DeFord, written in 1997:
Turn back the heart you've turned away
Give back your kissing breath
Leave not my love as you have left
The broken hearts of yesterday
But wait, be still, don't lose this way
Affection now, for what you guess
May be something more, could be less
Accept my love, live for today.
Your roses wilted, as love spurned
Yet trust in me, my love and truth
Dwell in my heart, from which you've turned
My strength as great as yours aloof.
It is in fear you turn away
And miss the chance of love today!
The following English sonnet was written by William Shakespeare and is
Sonnet Number 18:
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Here are some helpful hints to get you started writing a sonnet.
Don’t give up. It may be hard, but will be easier once the creative juices begin to flow.