The Petrarchan sonnet form, also known as the Italian sonnet form, takes its name from being the trademark of the 13th-century Italian poet, Petrarch. It traditionally consists of fourteen lines of iambic pentameter, which are divided into an octave, which is a section of eight lines with a rhyme scheme patterned ABBA ABBA, and a sestet, which is a section of six lines. The sestet's rhyme scheme can take many forms, but it usually appears as CDECDE, CDCDCD, or CDEDCE.
The octave and sestet have special functions in a Petrarchan sonnet. The octave's purpose is to introduce a problem, express a desire, reflect on reality, or otherwise present a situation that causes doubt or conflict within the speaker. It usually does this by introducing the problem within its first quatrain (unified four-line section) and developing it in the second. The beginning of the sestet is known as the volta, and it introduces a pronounced change in tone in the sonnet; the sestet's purpose as a whole is to make a comment on the problem or to apply a solution to it.
Poets adopting the Petrarchan sonnet form take freedoms with it in that they do not necessarily restrict themselves to the strict metrical or rhyme schemes of the traditional Petrarchan form; some use iambic hexameter, while others do not observe the octave-sestet division created by the traditional rhyme scheme. Whatever the changes made by poets exercising artistic license, no "proper" Italian sonnet has more than five different rhymes in it. This rule tends to be more difficult to adhere to when writing in English than when writing in Italian, as Italian has more rhyming words and, thus, more unique words to choose from when composing a sonnet.
Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey are both known for their translations of Petrarch's sonnets from Italian into English. While Howard tended to use the English sonnet form in his own work, reserving the Petrarchan form for his translations of Petrarch, Wyatt made extensive use of the Italian sonnet form in the poems of his that were not translation and adaptation work.
Here is an example of one of Wyatt's own sonnets in the Petrarchan form:
I find no peace, and all my war is done
I fear, and hope. I burn, and freeze like ice.
I fly above the wind, yet can I not arise.
And naught I have, and all the world I seize on.
That loseth nor locketh holdeth me in prison,
And holdeth me not, yet can I 'scape nowise;
Nor letteth me live nor die at my devise,
And yet of death it giveth me occasion.
Without eyen I see, and without tongue I plain;
I desire to perish, and yet I ask health;
I love another, and thus I hate myself;
I feed me in sorrow, and laugh at all my pain.
Likewise displeaseth me both death and life,
And my delight is causer of this strife.
Now, just for fun, let's have a sonnet by Petrarch here:
Amor, che nel penser mio vive et regna
e 'l suo seggio maggior nel mio cor tene,
talor armato ne la fronte vene;
ivi si loca et ivi pon sua insegna.
Quella ch'amare e sofferir ne 'nsegna,
e vol che'l gran desio, l'accesa spene,
ragion, vergogna, e reverenza affrene,
di nostro ardir fra se stessa si sdegna.
Onde Amor paventoso fugge al core,
lasciando ogni sua impresa, et piange et trema;
ivi s'asconde et non appar piu fore.
Che poss'io far, temendo il mio signore,
se non star seco infin a l'ora estrema?
che bel fin fa chi ben amando more.
The literal translation of the above would be as follows:
Love, who lives and rules in my thought
and holds his chief seat in my heart,
sometimes armed comes into my face;
and there makes camp and places his banner.
She who teaches me to love and suffer,
and wants reason, shame, and respect restrain
my great desire and burning hope
takes offense inwardly at our ardor.
Therefore Love, fearful, flees to the heart,
abandoning it all, and cries and shakes;
he hides himself, and is seen abroad no more.
What can I do, when my master is afraid,
except stand with him to the bitter end?
He makes a fine end, who dies loving well!
Here is Henry Howard's translation and adaptation:
Love, that doth reign and live within my thought,
And built his seat within my captive breast,
Clad in the arms wherein with me he fought,
Oft in my face he doth his banner rest.
But she that taught me love and suffer pain,
My doubtful hope and eke my hot desire
With shamefast look to shadow and refrain,
Her smiling grace converteth straight to ire.
And coward Love, then, to the heart apace
Taketh his flight, where he doth lurk and plain,
His purpose lost, and dare not show his face.
For my lord's guilt thus faultless bide I pain,
Yet from my lord shall not my foot remove:
Sweet is the death that taketh end by love.
And here is Sir Thomas Wyatt's translation and adaptation:
The long love that in my thought doth harbor,
And in mine heart doth keep his residence,
Into my face presseth with bold pretense
And therein campeth, spreading his banner.
She that me learneth to love and suffer
And will that my trust and lust's negligence
Be reined by reason, shame, and reverence
With his hardiness taketh displeasure.
Wherewithal unto the heart's forest he fleeth,
Leaving his enterprise with pain and cry,
And there him hideth, and not appeareth.
What may I do, when my master feareth,
But in the field with him to live and die?
For good is the life ending faithfully.