The Spenserian sonnet was invented by the famous sixteenth-century poet Edmund Spenser and used a rhyme scheme of ABABBCBCCDCDEE. The poems contain three quatrains, as do Shakespearean sonnets, and one final couplet. They also use iambic pentameter.
The rhyme scheme of these sonnets iscomparable to a Shakespearean sonnet and a Petrarchan sonnet, although there is a distinct difference in the repetition of the “C” rhyme. The couplets that make up this entire form are its most prominent feature.
Spenser chose to structure the sonnet in this way so that there was less of an emphasis on the problem/solution, question/argument format. Spenser’s sonnets do not necessarily pose and then answer a question.
Here is an example of a famous sonnet by Spenser:
[read the full analysis of ‘Sonnet 75‘ here]
One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washed it away:
Again I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
“Vain man,” said she, “that dost in vain assay,
A mortal thing so to immortalize;
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eke my name be wiped out likewise.”
“Not so,” (quod I) “let baser things devise
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:
My verse your vertues rare shall eternize,
And in the heavens write your glorious name:
Where whenas death shall all the world subdue,
Our love shall live, and later life renew.”
In this poem, Spenser uses lyrical language to create a conversation between the speaker and his lover. He addresses his lover, telling her that because of the nature of their love, it will live on forever.
A reader can note how the rhyme scheme functions in the lines of this poem. It follows the pattern of ABABBCBCDCDCEE. The final couplet is divided from the rest of the poem. This places additional emphasis on the lines, as one usually finds in Shakespearean sonnets.
Other famous Spenserian sonnets are: