Learn How to Write A Shakespearean Sonnet
Writing poetry is easy when you don't have to follow any rules, structures, patterns, rhyme schemes, etc. But when you tackle writing a traditional form of poetry such as a Shakespearean sonnet it becomes more of a challenge, especially when you start out on this creative endeavor for the very first time.
There are different types of sonnets that exist out there—Shakespearean (English), Spenserian, Petrarchan (Italian), Occitan, Urdu sonnet, and others. Each is slightly different than the other though there are similarities between them all. All the sonnets use iambic pentameter and have a rhyme scheme that needs to be followed. They also have the same number of lines—fourteen.
What is iambic pentameter?
Iambic pentameter is a measure of a line in a traditional verse poem. It describes the rhythm of that particular line that is created by the words you write. The rhythm is measured in syllables, which are referred to as "feet". In iambic pentameter there are five of these "feet" in each line of the poem and each "foot" consists of an unstressed syllable and a stressed syllable.
To make things a bit easier you can think of each line in an iambic pentameter poem sounding like this: DA-DUM, DA-DUM, DA-DUM, DA-DUM, DA-DUM. When you write your lines read them in the DA-DUM style and if your line has five DA-DUMs that means your line is written in iambic pentameter.
It's not that easy to understand this the first time around but it gets easier as you write more and more poetry in iambic pentameter.
How to Write a Shakespearean Sonnet
Before you write a Shakespearean sonnet you have to become familiar with its structure and form.
A Shakespearean sonnet uses iambic pentameter. It consists of fourteen lines and follows a specific rhyme scheme. The first twelve lines in a Shakespearean sonnet have a rhyme scheme where every other line rhymes—abab, cdcd...etc. The last two lines are a couplet and therefore rhyme with each other—gg.
Line 1: rhyme a
Line 2: rhyme b
Line 3: rhyme a
Line 4: rhyme b
Line 5: rhyme c
Line 6: rhyme d
Line 7: rhyme c
Line 8: rhyme d
Line 9: rhyme e
Line 10: rhyme f
Line 11: rhyme e
Line 12: rhyme f
Line 13: rhyme g
Line 14: rhyme g
Now if your first four lines have a rhyme scheme of abab that doesn't mean that you can't use that rhyme sound in other lines of the poem. Just make sure that every other line rhymes, with the exception of the last two lines that have their own rhyme scheme. Of course, if your poem started with a first rhyme sound of cat, for example, that doesn't mean you can't use that same sound in the last two lines of the poem. You can but you don't have to. Doing all this, however, may not classify your poem as a full Shakespearean sonnet .But I think there is nothing wrong with that as there are many variations of a sonnet.
An example of a Shakespearean Sonnet
Below is a Shakespearean sonnet that I wrote for my poetry class back when I was in college. It may not be the best sonnet I could have written but it will help you to better visualize and understand how to write a Shakespearean Sonnet.
A sea of photos scrambled on the floor,
Pieces of life once lived in distant past.
Flashing before my eyes an open door,
It’s like a movie that is being cast
About me when I was only a child,
Going to camp, wandering through the forest,
Picking mushrooms and berries, free and wild,
Running, in flight my body will not rest.
The tape has STOPPED, and now this life is gone.
Wish I could PAUSE it and just press REWIND.
Life’s full of work, no time to have much fun.
Can’t fall asleep with nightmares so unkind.
Glad the photos are in my possession.
They’re a memory of past expression.
Have you written a Shakespearean sonnet before?
What is your favorite type of sonnet to read and/or write?
What do you think of sonnets? Do you think they are a creative style of poetry? Have you ever made up your own style of the sonnet? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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© 2012 Lena Kovadlo