Can someone help me with marking the stressed and unstressed syllables for "Sonnet 292" by Petrarch?

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Jessica Gardner | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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You have been asked to mark the stressed and unstressed syllables in Francesco Petrarch's "Sonnet 292," which essentially means that you have been asked to find the rhythm of the poem. When we read a poem like Petrarch's sonnet aloud, we fall into a natural cadence--a pattern of beats formed by which syllables we stress in each line. In poetry, these beats (called poetic feet) can take many forms: there's iamb (da-DUM), trochee (DA-dum), spondee (DA-DUM), anapest (da-dum-DA) and more. Then, by counting up the number of stressed syllables we have in a line, we can find the poem's meter. Sonnets are for the most part written in iambic pentameter, especially classical sonnets. Keep this in mind when looking at Petrarch's "Sonnet 292."

The first step to mark a poem's meter is to go line by line marking the stressed and unstressed syllables of the words. Do this by reading the words aloud and noting which syllables you emphasize (stress). Mark the emphasized syllables with a '/' above the syllable and the unstressed syllables with a 'u' above the syllable. I'll attach images of "Sonnet 292" with my answer so you can see how the text is marked for its stressed and unstressed syllables.

If you're unsure of where you place the stress in a word, just repeat it aloud to yourself. Try reading it different ways and see what sounds right. For instance, would you read "lovely" as love-LY or LOVE-ly? The latter is how we say the word in everyday life, so it is the correct one. You would mark a / over "love" and a u over "ly."

When the stressed and unstressed syllables are all marked, divide the syllables into feet. Listen for the rhythm in the lines when you read them aloud. Do they fall into a da-DUM pattern? A da-da-DUM pattern? A lot of finding out the meter in a poem goes by feeling. Read the first line and listen for its rhythm:

The eyes I spoke of once in words that burn

You should find that the syllables naturally pair together in couples, forming an unstressed-stressed pattern (da-DUM). This is an iamb, so as long as the other lines fall into a similar pattern (they do) the sonnet is iambic. Now mark each complete foot with a | at the end of it. The line above one complete iamb should then look like something like this: u   /  |

To find the meter, count the number of stressed syllables in each line. I'll mark the stressed syllables in the poem's first line in bold:

The eyes I spoke of once in words that burn

There are five stressed syllables in the line. If you read through the rest of the lines like this, you'll find that each line also has five stressed syllables. That makes the poem's meter iambic pentameter (penta=five, so iambic pentameter means there are five stressed syllables per line, following an unstressed-stressed rhythm).

I'll include images of the complete marked up poem as attachments, since the formatting would be changed by pasting it in. I hope they help you understand the meter of "Sonnet 292." Good luck!

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