How to Write a Sonnet

Invented around the year 1200 by poet Giacomo da Lentino, the sonnet is one of the most well-known forms of verse. You are probably most familiar with the sonnets of Shakespeare, though poets have been writing sonnets for thousands of years. Sonnets are usually focused on one subject throughout, concentrating on a single idea or problem, and coming to a conclusion at the end.

Though traditionally written sonnets followed specific rhyme schemes, modern sonnets are often written with no rhyme at all. The basic form is 14 lines, often divided into two stanzas of 4, (the octave) followed by the sestet, which is often divided up as one stanza of four, and the last two lines set in for a dramatic ending and to encompass the conclusion of the sonnet. The most famous rhyme scheme used for sonnets is abab, cdcd, efef, gg as in this famous sonnet by Shakespeare:

My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like The Sun

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; (a)

Coral is far more red than her lips’ red: (b)

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; (a)

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head. (b)

I have seen roses damasked, red and white, (c)

But no such roses see I in her cheeks; (d)

And in some perfumes is there more delight (c)

Than in her breath that from my mistress reeks. (d)

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know (e)

That music hath a far more pleasing song: (f)

I grant I never saw a goddess go, (e)

My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground. (f)

And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare (g)

As any she belied with false compare. (g)

Writing modern sonnets does not require any rhyme scheme at all, but the basic thought process of the sonnet should remain intact. Present a thought and then a conclusion. When we take liberties with poetic forms we often create new ones, don’t be afraid to experiment with sonnets and make them your own.

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