Three types of sonnet

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Most sonnets fall into one or other of three types, according to the rhyme scheme they follow.

The Italian sonnet uses two rhymes for the octave - the pattern is either a-b-a-b, a-b-a-b or a-b-b-a, a-b-b-a - and two or three rhymes for the sestet - the pattern is either c-d-e, c-d-e or c-d-c-d-c-d or c-d-c, c-d-c. An example of an Italian sonnet is On His Deceased Wife by John Milton (1608-1674):

Methought I saw my late espousèd Saint (a)
Brought to me like Alcestis from the grave, (b)
Whom Jove's great Son to her glad Husband gave, (b)
Rescu'd from death by force though pale and faint, (a)
Mine as whom wash'd from spot of child-bed taint, (a)
Purification in the old Law did save, (b)
And such, as yet once more I trust to have (b)
Full sight of her in Heaven without restraint, (a)
Came vested all in white, pure as her mind: (c)
Her face was veil'd, yet to my fancied sight, (d)
Love, sweetness, goodness in her person shin'd (c)
So clear, as in no face with more delight. (d)
But O, as to embrace me she inclin'd (c)
I wak'd, she fled, and day brought back my night. (d)

The Shakespearean or English sonnet follows the pattern a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g. An example of a Shakespearean or English sonnet is Sonnet XVIII by William Shakespeare (1564-1616):

Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day? (a)
Thou art more lovely and more temperate: (b)
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, (a)
And summer's lease hath all too short a date: (b)
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, (c)
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd: (d)
And every fair from fair sometime declines, (c)
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd: (d)
But thy eternal Summer shall not fade (e)
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest; (f)
Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade, (e)
When in eternal lines to time thou growest: (f)
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, (g)
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. (g)

The Spenserian sonnet follows the pattern a-b-a-b, b-c-b-c, c-d-c-d, e-e. An example of a Spenserian sonnet is Whilst it is prime by Edmund Spenser (1552-1599):

Fresh Spring, the herald of love's mighty king, (a)
In whose cote-armour richly are displayed (b)
All sorts of flowers, the which on earth do spring, (a)
In goodly colours gloriously array'd - (b)
Go to my love, where she is careless laid, (b)
Yet in her winter's bower not well awake; (c)
Tell her the joyous time will not be stay'd, (b)
Unless she do him by the forelock take; (c)
Bid her therefore her self soon ready make, (c)
To wait on Love amongst his lovely crew; (d)
Where every one, that misseth then her make, (c)
Shall be by him amearst with penance due. (d)
Make haste, therefore, sweet love, whilst it is prime; (e)
For none can call again the passèd time. (e)

See further Sonnet.

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