Writing Activity- Sonnet Writing

14 Nov

From the Italian sonetto, which means “a little sound or song,” the sonnet is a popular classical form that has compelled poets for centuries. Traditionally, the sonnet is a fourteen-line poem written in iambic pentameter, which employ one of several rhyme schemes and adhere to a tightly structured thematic organization. Two sonnet forms provide the models from which all other sonnets are formed: the Petrachan and the Shakespearean.

For the next activity of the group, the members have to write a Shakespearean sonnet.

What is a Shakespearean sonnet?

Shakespearean Sonnet

The second major type of sonnet, the Shakespearean, or English sonnet, follows a different set of rules. Here, three quatrains and a couplet follow this rhyme scheme: abab, cdcd, efef, gg. The couplet plays a pivotal role, usually arriving in the form of a conclusion, amplification, or even refutation of the previous three stanzas, often creating an epiphanic quality to the end. In Sonnet 130 of William Shakespeare’s epic sonnet cycle, the first twelve lines compare the speaker’s mistress unfavorably with nature’s beauties. But the concluding couplet swerves in a surprising direction:

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;

Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;

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

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damasked, red and white,

But no such roses see I in her cheeks;

And in some perfumes is there more delight

Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know

That music hath a far more pleasing sound;

I grant I never saw a goddess go;

My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.

And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare

As any she belied with false compare.

How to write?

A Shakespearean sonnet is not difficult to construct. The difficulty is in perfecting it. Your goal should not be… to create a perfect sonnet on your first attempt. Enjoy the creative process and have fun developing your poetry skills.

Fourteen lines (stanzas, quatrains, couplet)

You have 14 lines to work with when creating a Shakespearean sonnet. Your poem will take the form of 3 quatrains and 1 couplet. This totals 4 stanzas. A stanza is a grouping of lines usually with a specific rhyming pattern. A quatrain consists of 4 lines. A couplet consists of two lines. Your poem will take on the form below.

Line 1

Line 2

Line 3

Line 4                 Quatrain One/Stanza One

Line 5

Line 6

Line 7

Line 8                 Quatrain Two/Stanza Two

Line 9

Line 10

Line 11

Line 12               Quatrain Three/Stanza Three

Line 13

Line 14               Couplet One/Stanza Four


You have to follow a specific rhyming scheme when constructing a Shakespearean sonnet. It looks like this ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.  Like-letters rhyme in this example. A rhymes with A and B would rhyme with B and so on.

Line 1               A

Line 2               B

Line 3               A

Line 4               B               Quatrain One/Stanza One

Line 5               C

Line 6               D

Line 7               C

Line 8               D                Quatrain Two/Stanza Two

Line 9               E

Line 10             F

Line 11             E

Line 12             F               Quatrain Three/Stanza Three

Line 13             G

Line 14             G               Couplet One/Stanza Four

Telling a Story (It’s not just 14 lines):

The 3 quatrains:

There are many explanations on how to tell a story using a sonnet. I suggest the first 4 lines or first stanza be used to set the tone or mood. It should let the reader know what is on your mind. I suggest using the next 8 lines or 2 stanzas to define the conflict, twist or point of tension. Remember conflict, twists, and tension does not have to be negative.

However you choose to use the first three stanzas is up to you. The 3 stanzas can also be looked at as beginning/issue, middle/transition and conflict/dilemma.

The single couplet:

You are left with the couplet which is the resolution of the story presented in the poem. The couplet is your summation and conclusion to your story. Have fun with it. You want to make sure you try and tell a story with a couplet conclusion when writing a Shakespearean sonnet. Do not write 14 rhyming lines that just describe love, anger, an object, a thought, etc. The Shakespearean sonnet is not 14 lines of descriptive poetry. It has a beginning, middle and an end.

Here is an example of the first stanza of a Shakespearean Sonnet.

My love for you is like the hardest rain.

The warmth of summer, held in every drop.

A love, I dreamed, I hoped I would attain.

But now I fear, this rain may fall and stop.

(Notice how it has changed down below. It is important to just write.)

It is a quatrain with ABAB rhyme scheme. It follows the definition of iambic pentameter. There are 10 syllables in each line with a da-DUM stress when reading. Perfection is not the goal. Learning and having fun is the goal.

Follow the tips and we are sure you all will write a perfect sonnet.  The last day to send in your entries is  23rd November. Best of luck to all!

If anyone has a query or need any advice on their work, please leave your comments below and we will get back to you soon.


2 Responses to “Writing Activity- Sonnet Writing”

  1. Catherine Ayres November 15, 2012 at 8:58 pm #

    each line of a sonnet should also have 10 syllables

    • miracleezine November 16, 2012 at 7:56 am #

      yes,missed that point…thank u for notifying.

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