How To Write A Sonnet
Sonnet is a rhymed poem that is written in 14 lines in iambic pentameter meter. A meter is the word for a unit of rhythm, partly to do with how the syllables are stressed in a line of poetry. In Italian language, the word ‘sonneto’ means a ‘little song’. It possesses musical qualities with a set scheme of rhyme. If you have ever read a Shakespearean work, you must have come across a sonnet. This is a kind of free verse that is quite easy to compose, but Shakespeare was the master of it. For many, no poet can match his art and this is why he is known as 'the bard'. If you want to claim this title for yourself, here at oneHOWTO, we will give you step by step instructions on how to write a sonnet the right way.
Selecting a theme:
Most commonly, the subject of a sonnet is a basic element of everyday human life which a layman can easily relate to. They often include themes like change, hard work, war, love, death, mortality and others. Sometimes, it may include answers to a bigger life question or comments on a prevalent social issue. You may also select a problem as the subject of your sonnet, as many sonnets talk about a problem and then try to provide a relevant answer to it by the end.
When you want to know how to write a sonnet, start with an idea, or a feeling, like being in love or loneliness. It may also indicate your perception of life, or about a particular person or a group of people. You may also choose one of your favorite subjects, like movies, music, nature, a book, sport, etc. Really, since it is your poem, your sonnet can be whatever you like. Just try to make it something relatable.
Selecting a sonnet type:
There are two basic types of sonnets: Italian and English. Italian sonnets are most commonly associated with the Italian poet Petrarch and William Shakespeare was the master of English sonnets. This is why the second most common type of sonnet is known as the Shakespearean sonnet. Both Petrarch and Shakespeare were the prominent writers of sonnets during their times in their respective sonnet types (and countries). Although both the sonnet types are composed of 14 lines, both of them have different rhyme schemes and line structures. Whether you choose the Italian or the English type of sonnet to write, you need to follow its specific form and scheme.
Writing in iambic pentameter:
Iambus is a two syllable foot (another word for meter) and each line in a sonnet has five iambi or feet. Shakespeare used iambic pentameter in each of his sonnets and also in all lines of his plays. This is probably because this pattern is closely similar to the rhythm people use in their everyday speech. The rhythm scheme in which poets write sonnets is termed as iambic pentameter. Iamb contains two syllables with a metrical foot. First syllable is unstressed, followed by a second syllable which is emphasized or stressed.
When you speak a sonnet aloud, it should sound like a rise and fall scheme. Pentameter means repeating this iamb 5 times. Iambs of a sonnet do not necessarily need to be made with two-syllable words. The pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables can be stretched out over separate words, or you may repeat it with a single word with stresses still working. Pentameter indicates that there should be 10 syllables in total, with 5 metrical feet in each line.
Organizing the stanzas:
Stanzas indicate groups of lines in a poetic composition. A sonnet may contain different types of stanzas, including quatrain, sestet, octave or rhyming couplet. A quatrain is a stanza containing 4 lines, sestet contains 6 lines, octave contains 8 lines and a rhyming couplet contains 2 consecutive rhyming lines. Sometimes, the stanzas may also refer to a complete poem that is composed of the respective number of lines.
A sonnet is 14 lines long in total. English sonnets have 3 quatrains (four line verses) and have a couplet at the end. Shakespearean sonnets always end with a rhyming couplet. The volta or the resolution does not arrive until the last rhymed couplet. A powerful end statement is made with the help of this couplet. On the contrary, an Italian sonnet contains one Octave, followed by a sestet (an 8 line verse followed by a 6 line verse). In general, first 8 lines talk about a problem, and the 6 lines in the end seek resolution. So, if you are writing a sonnet, you will have to follow this scheme, depending on the type of sonnet you choose to write.
The rhyming aspect of how to write a sonnet can seem complicated, which is why we have provided some famous examples thanks to Messrs Shakespeare and Keats. This way you will see how easy it actually is.
Following a rhyme scheme:
A rhyming scheme is created by ending the lines with words that have matching sounds. In other words, a sonnet has every other line rhyming, except for the couplet in which both lines have to rhyme. The rhyming pattern you choose has to start over with every quatrain. Poems use letters for identifying rhyme patterns or schemes. Beginning at the starting of the alphabets, letters can be used to represent varied rhyming patterns. Typically, a Petrarchan sonnet has a tight rhyming scheme of abba, abba, cdcdcd. On the other hand, a Shakespearean sonnet has a looser rhyming scheme of abab, cdcd, efef, gg. If you want to get hold of a sonnet’s rhyme scheme, think about quatrains as their own little poems.
Incorporating the volta:
The Italian word ‘volta’ means ‘turn’. A volta may be used to represent significant changes in a sonnet, whether changes in the sound, emphasis or theme of the poem, and the image it represents or message it conveys. A volta may be used to indicate the coming end of the sonnet as well. If you are writing a Shakespearean sonnet, you can incorporate a volta in the 3rd quatrain. If you are writing a Petrarchan sonnet, you can include it in the 9th line. In many sonnets, volta is used to mark a significant change in an individual’s life, to indicate a new beginning, to find solution to a given problem etc. Volta can be incorporated by making a shift in the language by using words like ‘but’ etc.
Using poetic devices:
Incorporating poetic and literary devices in your sonnet can actually enhance the message and imagery of your poetry. Imagery holds immense importance while writing a sonnet. You can establish it by making the right choice of words and also using figurative language in your poetry. Examples of these include metaphors, personification and similes. Sound devices like consonance and assonance can also be used for creating musical quality in your sonnet. With the help of symbolism, you can create a deeper message to interact with your audience.
An important tip:
One tip is to change your meter from one time or other. Although you should write your lines in iambic pentameter for the majority of times, it may get predictable if you use it too often. By changing the pattern at different moments, you may break the pattern and add interest in the sonnet. You may also use these changes to draw your reader’s attention to certain phrases of the poem.
Using a little passion, discipline and creativity, you may start writing sonnets easily and quickly. By playing with words and creating a magical composition with 14 lines, rhyme pattern, presentation, resolution and iambic pentameter, you may well move towards becoming a master of writing a sonnet. Whether you are writing a poem for the first time, or you are already an experienced poet, gather your emotions and ideas to write a sonnet with perfection.
If you want to read similar articles to How To Write A Sonnet, we recommend you visit our Learning category.