Poetry Definitions

Time to look at the Spenserian Sonnet

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?


6 thoughts on “Time to look at the Spenserian Sonnet”

  1. hmm, I dont know much about these things but it seems to me that before poems had accepted rules, they must all have been freeform at first? Who made these rules anyway? Was there a ‘society’ for it. Like the pursuit of science had a society, or are these rules a form of national identity? “So thats what springs to my mind” says, the girl who likes to fly in the face of rules.


    1. Trust you to bring these things up – I think that Spenser, for example, just took the rules for a Shakespearean sonnet and played with them, Shakespeare probably did something similar with the Italian sonnet – which is where it originated from.



  2. I don’t know much about these things either but is a sonnet not just a ‘free’ verse of 14 lines anyway? Free in poetry not really being ‘free’ that is. Gosh, feel like I have stepped into something I have no right to 😦 It’s kind of freeing though!


      1. Beggin’yor pahdon n all but I be not likin’ de sound of yer words ‘ere missy…:-D

        Me, I’ll be stayin’ ‘board the Cap’n’s ship!
        I rather prefer the Pirates’ way of thinking: Pirates’ Code be mo’ like a set o’ guidelines. Aaaarh ;-D


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