Poetry Know-How: How to Write a Sonnet?

Someone who loves poetry would be aware of the different forms of poetry that has been written over the centuries. Sonnets, lyrics, odes, elegies, ballads and epics are only a few. There are many forms that are culture specific such as the Haiku, Rubaiyat and Ghazal. If you are new to poetry and are interested in learning, this is a good opportunity. For a first, you can concentrate on learning how to write a sonnet.

What Is a Sonnet?

A sonnet is a form of poetry that originated in Italy. It has a defined structure consisting of 14 lines each of which has 10 syllables. There are two popular forms of sonnets – the Italian or Petrarchan sonnet and the English Sonnet or the Shakespearean sonnet. The two differ in the arrangement of the 14 lines and the rhyming schemes. 

Understanding the Structure

The Petrarchan sonnet is divided into two parts, the first one of which is an octet and the second one is a sestet. The rhyming pattern followed for the Italian Sonnet is abba abba cdecde. For the English Sonnet, there are three sets of four lines known as the quatrains and the final two lines form the couplet. Hence, the rhyming pattern, here is abab cdcd efef gg.

Using the Metric Pattern 

The sonnet uses an iambic pentameter in its construction i.e. it uses an iambus. An iambus is a two-syllable foot, where the first the 2nd syllable is stressed more than the first. Since there are ten syllables in every line, there should be 5 iambi in it – hence a pentameter.  

Varying the Meter Occasionally Is Acceptable

Continuous use of the iambic pentameter can become monotonous and boring. Hence, you can vary the pattern once in a while. This helps to break the monotony and stresses on certain aspects of the poetry

Decide on a Subject

Before starting your composition, be clear about the basic theme or idea of your poetry. It will help you choose the right words to fit in the meter and avoid any diversion into different moods.

Use the Stanzas to Develop the Theme

The first Quatrain introduces the theme of the poetry while the second and third lead into the transition phases. The couplet is designed for the closing with another thought. Though all the stanzas are linked, each one in itself should make complete sense independent of the others.

Choose Your Preferred Form of Sonnet  

You do not have to use the Shakespearean Sonnet; you can choose to use the Petrarchan format as well. In the Petrarchan Sonnet, while the Octet has a fixed pattern of abba abba. The sestet can have varying patterns. Some of the common ones are cdcdcd., cddcdc, cdecde, cdeced, cdcedc. The Octave is generally used for the introduction of a specific situation while the sestet provides an insight on how the problem can be resolved.

The iambic pentameter remains the same in both types of compositions but the rhyming pattern changes from the Shakespearean format.

There are other types of sonnets that have been written. Sonnets have also been written in various languages while following the pattern described above, the essentials being the number of lines and the iambic pentameter.