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Poetry Prompt 10 – Italian Sonnet


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Poetry Prompt 10 – Italian Sonnet 

 

 

Let's Write an Italian Sonnet!

 

Italian Sonnets are more lyrical than their English cousins. They have built-in music via the nature of 'kissing rhymes,' and a forced pivot point that cannot be changed.

 

The beauty and flexibility of the Sonnet as a form really took off in the skilled hands of Tuscan poets. Francesco Petrarca (also known as Petrach in English) had his Rerum vulgarium fragmenta (Fragments of Ordinary Things) published posthumously in 1374, and it changed the world of poetry substantially.[1] Before his death, he had used the Sonnet in a forty-year exploration of the forbidden love he felt for a person later scholars wanted to believe was a woman, but for whom the internal evidence of the Sonnets points to as a young man.    

 

Because of the lyric quality of this form, Romantic poets embraced the challenge of writing Italian-style sonnets, and preferred it to the narrative nature of the English form. The Italian Sonnet is made up of three parts: two quatrains, rhymed a-b-b-a, a-b-b-a; and a sestet, rhymed c-d-c-d-c-d.[2] The lines maintain 10 syllables throughout. Because of this structure, the pivot point is automatically built in at the break from the quatrains to the sestet. Let's look at a full example:

 

Much have I travelled in the realms of gold,

And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;

Round many western islands have I been

Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.

Oft of one wide expanse had I been told

That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;

Yet did I never breathe its pure serene

Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies

When a new planet swims into his ken;

Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes

He stared at the Pacific—and all his men

Looked at each other with a wild surmise

Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

John Keats,

     On First Looking into Chapman's Homer

 

Here you can immediately see why this form is more challenging than the English Sonnet. But we can tackle this, for the 'kissing rhymes' (seen, been; hold, told) are constructed exactly like the Elegy form we've already studied. Think of the quatrains here like four pair of divided couplets, and that will make it much easier to tackle. As for the pivot point, you can see it naturally occurs when the poem shifts to alternating rhymes of c-d-c-d-c-d. It's almost like a sigh of relief when it settles into this smooth flow.

 

In its way, there is something fundamentally unromantic about this poetic form in the English language. Perhaps it's because the English Sonnet is ideal for expressions of love and deep emotions, the Italian Sonnet becomes reserved for abstract concepts. Here is an example whose opening lines inspired the film Dead Poets Society:

 

O ye dead Poets, who are living still

Immortal in your verse, though life be fled,

And ye, O living Poets, who are dead

Though ye are living, if neglect can kill,

Tell me if in the darkest hours of ill,

With drops of anguish falling fast and red

From the sharp crown of thorns upon your head,

Ye were not glad your errand to fulfill?

Yes; for the gift and ministry of Song

Have something in them so divinely sweet,

It can assuage the bitterness of wrong;

Not in the clamor of the crowded street,

Not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng,

But in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,

The Poets

  

Here's another example whose lines you may find surprisingly familiar:

 

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me;

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Emma Lazarus,

    The New Colossus

 

 

 

The prompt: write one Italian Sonnet about a recent dream. Use the quatrains to paint the sights, sounds, and other senses of the dream in an unsentimental way. With the sestet, introduce the emotions of how the dream made you feel. Keep consistent 10-syllable lines, and use the rhyme pattern of: a-b-b-a; a-b-b-a; c-d-c-d-c-d.

 

 

 



[2] There is much variation on how to construct the concluding sestet, but for our study, we shall stay orthodox.   

 

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Uh.... I dreamt that my brother was attacked and killed by a lion last night. :o Not sure I can work with that one, AC.

 

ps. I happen to like my brother. So, I'm not sure what that was all about. Still... it holds quite a bit of drama, doesn't it?

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Uh.... I dreamt that my brother was attacked and killed by a lion last night. :o Not sure I can work with that one, AC.

 

ps. I happen to like my brother. So, I'm not sure what that was all about. Still... it holds quite a bit of drama, doesn't it?

Well, it's traumatic, so I can see why you'd not want to use that dream. But on the other hand, that's the kind of thing I had in mind: Vivid details for the beginning, and then an emotional sorting out for the concluding six lines. 

 

Maybe you have another dream you'd like to use ;)   

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Poetry Prompt 10 – Italian Sonnet 

 

Much have I travelled in the realms of gold,

And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;

Round many western islands have I been

Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.

Oft of one wide expanse had I been told

That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;

Yet did I never breathe its pure serene

Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies

When a new planet swims into his ken;

Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes

He stared at the Pacific—and all his men

Looked at each other with a wild surmise

Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

John Keats,

     On First Looking into Chapman's Homer

 

 

A very interesting exercise.  I can't say I am a skilled poet, so I probably can't write one (not without hurting people's eyes and senses, that is).  I like Keats generally, and this one, too.  However, I noticed one anomaly: "demesne" and "serene" do not rhyme! 

 

I used to read "demesne" as "duh mess knee" (which would push the syllable count to eleven, in any case), but after reading the the poem out loud, I had to do some investigation.  The word in question is actually read as "de main" with silent s (which you can see easily the related word "domain").  Still, that does not solve the mystery of the rhyme.  Is John Keats' English different from the modern day one?

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A very interesting exercise.  I can't say I am a skilled poet, so I probably can't write one (not without hurting people's eyes and senses, that is).  I like Keats generally, and this one, too.  However, I noticed one anomaly: "demesne" and "serene" do not rhyme! 

 

I used to read "demesne" as "duh mess knee" (which would push the syllable count to eleven, in any case), but after reading the the poem out loud, I had to do some investigation.  The word in question is actually read as "de main" with silent s (which you can see easily the related word "domain").  Still, that does not solve the mystery of the rhyme.  Is John Keats' English different from the modern day one?

Yes, my OED says it's pronounced //de-mayne// as well.

 

I don't know if it could have been pronounced de-meen 200 years ago, but that variation would be the easiest explanation. That being said, being 'perfect' with rhymes in English is quite a challenge. The poet may simply have intended for the word to be perceived as a 'near rhyme' for seen et al, or perhaps even as an 'eye rhyme' (which are word combinations like wind and mind; earth and hearth), or he may even have thought of it as a consonant rhyme. Who knows?

 

If you are interested, you can check out my blog posting about rhyme, and please feel free to expand it with more contributions :)

 

https://www.gayauthors.org/forums/blog/513/entry-15424-rhyming-is-fundamental/#commentsStart

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Hey, I did it, well, sort of... maybe.  Well, I attempted it anyway... :)

Since one of my dreams was of my next probable story, this poem reflects a little of what may be happening when I actually get around to writing it....

 

https://www.gayauthors.org/story/craftingmom/attemptsatpoetry/4

I think it's great! I've left more comments on the actual posting. 

 

Thank you for taking the challenge, and I hope you consider doing the other poetry prompts as well! 

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  • 1 month later...

Um, not sure I'm up to this ... need to think about it.

dughlas, maybe go back and look at Poetry Prompt 1, and try that out. I've set these up to build and be like a course of study, so if you follow them up the chain, then the two prompts on Sonnets can be manageable. I hope you do check them out :)

Edited by AC Benus
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  • 3 months later...

How can I not be tempted by a challenge with a rhyme scheme that goes ABBA, ABBA? LOL

 

Now I just have to remember a dream... Not so easy when I sleep like the dead when I'm not disturbed by kids or work at night.

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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...
  • 2 months later...

 

It did feel good for a bit, till the faulty rhyming scheme was pointed out to me. So, I hear the bell for the second round :) .

Ah yes, I remember...abba; abba; really is hard. I was so happy I detected the 'what rhymes with...sites. Oh btw, I needed a second go too. lol

Edited by aditus
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