Discussion Topic

Analyzing the structure and rhyme scheme of Petrarch's sonnet

Summary:

Petrarch's sonnets typically follow a structure of 14 lines, divided into an octave and a sestet. The rhyme scheme of the octave is usually ABBAABBA, while the sestet can vary, commonly following CDECDE or CDCDCD patterns. This structure helps to develop a clear argument or theme in the octave, followed by a resolution or counterargument in the sestet.

Expert Answers

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Is this sonnet by Petrarch an example of an octave, sestet, quatrain, or couplet?

You who hear the sound, in scattered rhymes, of those sighs on which I fed my heart, in my first vagrant youthfulness, when I was partly other than I am, I hope to find pity, and forgiveness, for all the modes in which I talk and weep, between vain hope and vain sadness, in those who understand love through its trials.

Yet I see clearly now I have become an old tale amongst all these people, so that it often makes me ashamed of myself;

and shame is the fruit of my vanities, and remorse, and the clearest knowledge of how the world's delight is a brief dream.

The lines you are quotes are taken from the first poem in Il Canzoniere by the Italian poet Francesco Petrarch. This book, titled Rime Sparse (Scattered Rhymes) or Il Canzoniere (Song Book), was written in Italian and consist of a group of relatively short love poems addressed to his beloved Laura. Most of the poems in the book, including the one you quoted, are sonnets. In fact, this is the book from which the Petrarchan (i.e. `pertaining to Petrarch’) sonnet got its name. What you are quoting, however, is not the Italian original but an English translation. In this particular case, the translator did not follow the original rhyme scheme. Instead, this is a fairly literal translation that does not preserve the meter or rhyme of the original.

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How do the following lines fit into Petrarch's sonnet rhyme scheme? Are they an octave, sestet, quatrain, or couplet?

Yet I see clearly now I have become an old tale amongst all these people, so that it often makes me ashamed of myself;

and shame is the fruit of my vanities, and remorse, and the clearest knowledge of how the world's delight is a brief dream.

The sonnet by Petrarch, called ‘Voi ch’ascoltate in rime sparse il suono’ in Italian and sometimes translated as “You who hear the sound, in scattered rhymes,” is a classic Petrarchan sonnet, in the form of an octave, consisting of eight lines in the form of two open quatrains, and a sestet, consisting of six lines with two rhyme sounds, with no fixed order to the use of the rhyme sounds.  The final six lines of the poem constitute the sestet an the first eight lines of the poem constitute the octave.

If you are trying to analyse the meter of an Italian poem, even if you don’t know Italian, it’s worth looking at the original to get a sense of the sound pattern, as not all English translations follow the rhyme scheme of the Italian. Technically, the translation you cite is written in free verse.

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