How to write an English Sonnet

You already use rhythm and rhyme when you write poetry. Learning how to write a sonnet can give you the chance to combine a traditional form of poetry with more modern themes and vocabulary to create something truly unique. Don't miss these examples from our poets.

  1. Background. The sonnet originated in Italy; the term comes from the Italian word “sonetto”, which means “little song.” However, the sonnet was made most famous by William Shakespeare who put his own spin on it, which led to a new type of sonnet called the “English Sonnet” or “Shakespearean Sonnet.”
  2. Lines and syllables. A sonnet has fourteen lines, and each line has ten syllables. The poem can be broken down into three segments of four lines (each called a quatrain) and one pair of lines that rhyme (called a couplet).
  3. Iambic Pentameter. Each line in a sonnet uses iambic pentameter, which is a complicated way of saying that every other syllable is stressed, and has more emphasis put upon it when read out loud. Since there are ten syllables in each line, only five of them are stressed. Here is an example, with the capitalized words being the stressed ones: “Rough WINDS do SHAKE the DARLing BUDS of MAY.” When writing in iambic pentameter, it might help to think of your heartbeat and the rhythm that makes, because the pattern is very similar.
  4. Rhyming. Every other line in a sonnet rhymes, (except the couplet where both lines rhyme) but the rhyming pattern starts over with each quatrain. So, if you assigned a letter of the alphabet to each line, it would look like this: ABAB CDCD EFEF and GG for the couplet. Thinking of each quatrain as its own little poem can make it easier to get a hold of the rhyme scheme.
  5. Power Poetry. It can be a little tough to get the hang of writing an English sonnet, so try your best and don’t get discouraged. Once you’re set, go show off your sonnet by posting it to Power and continue to experiment with new ways of writing poems.

Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day
William Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And Summer's lease hath all too short a date.

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course untrimmed;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st.
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal line to Time thou grow'st.

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.


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