How to Write A Sonnet

8 days till Valentine’s Day!

Today, we take a look at what a sonnet is and how to write one. Let’s start with this poem:

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love thee to the level of every day’s

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for right.

I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.

The sonnet is the perfect form for the love poem; it is short and sweet, it rhymes — which makes it easier to put to song — and it is usually memorable.

So Farafina has decided to share the rules of the sonnet and how to write one;   surprise your Valentine with one this season.

The rules of the Sonnet:

1)      The Sonnet is a poem of fourteen lines

2)      It is usually in iambic pentameter (we won’t be focusing on that this time round)

3)      There are two kinds of sonnets: the Petrarchan and the Shakespearean. The rhyme scheme for the Shakespearean sonnet is abab cdcd efef gg. The rhyme scheme for the Petrarchan is abab cdcd cdecde. We will be looking at the Shakespearean sonnet for our example poem.

4)      The first eight lines are the opening statement/question and so on, of the poem.

5)      There is a shift in mood in the last six lines and the last two lines (the couplet) constitute the resolution/decision/answer to the poem.

You can break some of the rules, but you need to know what they are first. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem above does not follow the Petrarchan or Shakespearean rhyme scheme but her poem is still a sonnet

How to write a sonnet:

1)      Decide on your question or statement or issue. As an example  – Unrequited Love

shadow-man

2)      Decide on your first line and try to determine whether you can rhyme with it. Don’t end your first line with a word like apple, because you will struggle, unless it is a half rhyme. ‘I have blended into the shadows,’ I know shadows rhymes with rows, close, burrows etc

3)      Create your first eight lines:

‘I have blended into the shadows.

I see you looking left and right,

Walking between empty rows,

Searching for some love tonight.

I have been here all the while,

but you continue looking through me

and the sad behind my smile,

Searching for which man it’ll be’

4)      The next four lines will have a shift in the train of thought. In our example poem, the persona decides to come out of the shadows.

‘I will step into the light

In the hope that you will see

That I’m the man who’s right

That we are meant to be.’

5)      The last two lines of the poem will be the resolution and ideally they should be as strong as the rest of the poem.

‘Help me step out of the shadows,

May our love be like a rainbow.’

Drop a comment telling us what you think of the sonnet form. For examples of more sonnets:

Edna St Vincent – What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, And Where, And Why: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15420

Denis Johnson – Heat:

http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19655

William Shakespeare – Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? (Sonnet 18):

http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15555

To keep track of our e-love blog fest, visit: https://farafinabooks.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/write-me-a-love-letter/

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5 thoughts on “How to Write A Sonnet

  1. Pingback: Another Poem You Wish You Had Written, from Suzie G. | The Dad Poet

  2. 1st the rhyme scheme for Petrachan is wrong. It is abba abba cde cde…the last sextet r interchangable! You also did not recognise the existence of Spencerian sonnet wit the rhyme scheme abab bcbc cdcd ee!

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