Poetry: How to Write a Sonnet
The sonnet is a poetic form that can be found in lyric poetry throughout Europe. The term “sonnet” derives from the Occitan word “sonet” and the Italian word “sonetto”, meaning “little song.” By the thirteenth century, the sonnet signified a poem of fourteen lines which follows a strict rhyme scheme and specific structure. One of the best known sonnet writers is Shakespeare, who wrote 157 sonnets.
There are two main types of sonnets: English (or Shakespearean) and Italian (or Petrarchan).
How to write a sonnet
- Select subject for your sonnet. Themes of sonnets were historically written about love or philosophy, but modern sonnets cover all topics.
- Divide the sonnet’s theme into two sections. The first section will present the situation or thought. The second section will present the conclusion or climax.
- Write the sonnet using the English, Italian or modern rhyme scheme and structure.
The English sonnet uses an a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f rhyme scheme for the first section and the second section is composed as a couplet–two rhyming lines, generally g-g rhyme scheme. Compose the first section as three quatrains–three stanzas of four lines each. The English sonnet is usually written in iambic pentameter.
The Italian sonnet uses an a-b-b-a-a-b-b-a rhyme scheme for the first section (called the ‘octave’) and c-d-e-c-d-e or c-d-c-d-c-d in the second section (called the ‘sestet’).
Many modern sonnets contain no rhyme scheme, but instead present only 14 lines with 10 syllables each.
- An iamb is a type of metrical foot used within poetry. It is composed of two syllables with the accent on the second syllable. ie: “to-day”.
- Pentameter means there are five metrical feet per line. Iambic pentameter therefor means each line contains five iambic feet (10 total syllables). An example is: ‘Good pilgrim you do wrong your hand too much.’
Hopefully these simple steps and tips has helped you learn how to write a sonnet.