Invented and thus named after the English poet Edmund Spenser. Edmund Spenser lived in the 16th century.
The Spenserian sonnet has a similar structure to the Shakespearean sonnet.
It has three quatrains (four lines of poetry) and ends with a couplet (two lines of poetry).
It differs from a Shakespearean sonnet because the octave (the first eight lines) are not required to set up a dilemma or event for the sestet (the final six lines) to solve or comment upon.
In a Spenserian sonnet all three quatrains connect through two ways:
- Each quatrain expands on a particular thought, but that thought is closely allied to the thoughts contained in the other quatrains.
- The quatrains and couplet intertwine through the rhyming scheme by using couplet links between the quatrains.
The rhyming scheme is:
The following example will hopefully explain how this works.
Sonnet 75 – Edmund Spenser
One day I wrote her name upon the strand, A
But came the waves and washed it away: B
Again I wrote it with a second hand, A
But came the tide, and made my pains his prey. B
Vain man, said she, that doest in vain assay B
A mortal thing so to immortalize, C
For I myself shall like to this decay, B
And eek my name be wiped out likewise. C
Not so (quoth I), let baser things devise C
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame: D
My verse your virtues rare shall eternize, C
And in the heavens write your glorious name. D
Where whenas Death shall all the world subdue, E
Out love shall live, and later life renew. E
This reorganisation gave the Spenserian sonnet a feel somewhat similar to the Petrarchan sonnet.
The changes Spenser used are quite dramatic. In a Spenserian sonnet there is not the strict structure of idea/question/dilemma which then has to be answered in the final lines with either a solution or comment.
I think Spenser was simply inventing a form of free verse that he could pass off as a sonnet.
What do you think?