The Petrarchan Sonnet
As the oldest sonnet form, the Petrarchan Sonnet, or Italian Sonnet, has a special place in history and literature. Here, it is honored with these examples that should bear some light on just what can be accomplished using this pure form introduced by Petrarch in the 14th century.
One of the most famous architects of this form is the English poet John Milton
. Below is the Petrarchan Sonnet "When I Consider How My Light is Spent."
When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide;
"Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need
Either man's work or His own gifts. Who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait."
If you liked the above poem be sure to read more John Milton verse. Contemporary poets, whether they write sonnets, other forms, or in free verse, can learn a great deal from this poet of the Renaissance era.
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.
Edna St. Vincent Millay was an early 20th century poet who wrote some beautiful poems, including the above sonnet.
Another female poet who wrote some beautiful poems of the Petrarchan Sonnet style was Elizabeth Barrett Browning
. This English poet who wrote at the cusp of the Romantic and Victorian eras is famous for her verse and has given posterity a huge volume of poetry for study and consumption.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning had a very famous love affair and married another famous poet, Robert Browning. Even today, their love story is one of the best love stories ever told, and much of it was told in their poems to each other.
"My Letters! all dead paper...(Sonnet XXVIII)" by Elizabeth is a gem:
My letters! all dead paper, mute and white!
And yet they seem alive and quivering
Against my tremulous hands which loose the string
And let them drop down on my knee tonight.
This said—he wished to have me in his sight
Once, as a friend: this fixed a day in spring
To come and touch my hand. . . a simple thing,
Yes I wept for it—this . . . the paper's light. . .
Said, Dear, I love thee; and I sank and quailed
As if God's future thundered on my past.
This said, I am thine—and so its ink has paled
With lying at my heart that beat too fast.
And this . . . 0 Love, thy words have ill availed
If, what this said, I dared repeat at last!
For more on Petrarch and his contribution to literature, read all about the development of the sonnet, particularly the Petrarchan Sonnet and the English sonnet forms