Italian Sonnet Spread

Love is a strong link between Tarot and sonnets. Both poets and Tarot readers seek answers to matters of the heart. Before the explosion of the English sonnet in the 16th century, Italian sonneteers were writing little songs of love. Petrarch, who made the form famous in his 14th century Canzoniere, has been tied to Tarot. And sonnets were the preferred form of Teofilo Folengo and other Italian renaissance Tarot poets.

I discussed the Shakespearean sonnet form in another post. While the Italian sonnet is generally the same length (14 lines) as the Shakespearean sonnet, its defining feature is the turn. A turn, or a change in direction, occurs near the middle of the poem; eight lines (an octave) follow one avenue of thought and the six remaining lines (a sestet) follow a different path.

Pablo Neruda uses the Italian sonnet form in VII (translated by Stephen Tapscott):

Come with me, I said, and no one knew
where, or how my pain throbbed,
no carnations or barcaroles for me,
only a wound that love had opened.

I said it again: Come with me, as if I were dying,
and no one saw the moon that bled in my mouth
or the blood that rose into the silence.
O Love, now we can forget the star that has such thorns!

That is why, when I heard your voice repeat
Come with me, it was as if you had let loose
the grief, the love, the fury of a cork-trapped wine

that geysers flooding from deep in its vault:
in my mouth I felt the taste of fire again,
of blood and carnations, of rock and scald.

The first eight lines are dedicated to the speaker’s longing, his call to his beloved. Celestial imagery (the moon and the star, that can invoke the Tarot for some readers) is used to describe the pain of unanswered calls. Then the turn occurs.

The beloved answers by repeating the call, and the world is transformed. Flowers and fire sweeten the speaker’s taste, and her voice enables release. In other words, the octave is about the lover and the sestet is about the beloved.

This structure can be used in a Tarot spread for relationships. A short version can reflect the four-stanza structure: two cards for one person in a relationship and two cards for the other person in a relationship. (A more advanced version would be eight cards for the lover and six cards for the beloved, reflecting the structure of the lines.) The reading is centered on the effect the beloved has on the lover.

A sample reading

Pablo Neruda wrote 100 sonnets to his wife Matilde Urrutia in the mid 1900s. This is a reading about their relationship.


Wizards Tarot by Corrine Kenner and John J. Blumen

Lover: Five of Cups and Seven of Swords

Beloved: Queen of Pentacles and Ace of Cups

He has lost love, spilled emotions, but retains his creativity and inspiration in the face of loss. Both mentally and emotionally, he is grounded, but he is also mischievous. In the book that accompanies the Wizards Tarot, Corrine Kenner says his power is “stealth and deception.” While clutching thought, he lets his emotions flow.

She is an earthy queen (in his sonnets, Neruda refers to “clay” many times in relation to Matilde). Also, she is more solitary; he has a past with more people. Kenner calls her “a patient and intractable woman.” She is both ruler and muse of Neruda—is the fount of his creativity and pours out her love to him.

If you are feeling inspired, try writing a sonnet based on your reading.