The sonnet was the first poetic form that I experimented with, so it holds a special place in my heart.
Shakespeare clearly loved the sonnet form, as it was the only type of poem that he seemed interested in writing. He wrote so many, he didn’t bother to name them – they got numbers instead.
There are only FOUR things that you need to know about the sonnet form
If you are writing a Shakespearean sonnet:
1) Length: The sonnet consists of 14 lines.
2) Tone: The sonnet has a sense of finality in the last two lines (the couplet).
3) Rhyme: The sonnet has a rhyme scheme: abab cdcd efef gg
4) Iambic Pentameter: There’s rhyme and then there’s rhythm – the sound (ah you didn’t think you would be bothering with the way your poem sounded).
Iambic pentameter basically means the pattern of five feet (when you break it down). Five feet is the equivalent of ten syllables, which is basic enough – ‘The doctor told me to jump everyday’.
However, what makes it slightly less basic is that the syllables have to follow a pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables – da DUM da DUM/ da DUM da DUM/ da DUM da DUM/ da DUM da DUM/ da DUM da DUM/
– I DO beLIEVE my TRUST in YOU is DEAD
If you are writing a Petrarchan sonnet:
1) Length: The sonnet consists of 14 lines.
2) Tone: The first eight lines (the octave) of the poem are traditionally slightly different from the following six lines (the sestet). If the first eight, was a question; then the last six will be the answer. If the first eight lines revealed an obsession, the next six lines might be the realization of aforementioned obsession.
3) Rhyme: The sonnet has a rhyme scheme: abab cdcd cde cde
4) Iambic Pentameter: See above
So you know all about the technicalities of the sonnet form. All you need to do now is create your poem and I’ll give you a couple tricks to make your first attempt easier.
1) Decide on your subject/theme/story: This isn’t free verse, so you will make it a lot easier for yourself if you know what you are going to be writing about beforehand. It also helps if you write about something you are comfortable with, passionate about, or knowledgeable on, because the words will come to you quickly.
2) Remember that you are going to be rhyming and if this is your first sonnet, choose words that would not cause a headache when you are trying to rhyme. In other words, don’t end your line with words like ‘orange’ or the like.
3) For me the iambic pentameter is always the hardest part (and on most days I’m happy to forgo it), but the easiest way to do it is to first create your lines and ensure that it has exactly ten syllables. After that, test your sentence for the stresses; don’t force the stress where you know it should be. Speak normally and listen to where the stresses naturally fall. If the stresses are not in the right place, adjust accordingly.
My poem is a Petrarchan sonnet.
There is no why, no where, no place to go,
No second chances, let’s not be remiss
I loved you from hello, it’s time to grow,
It’s time! It’s time! It’s time to claim your kiss!
There is no who, no when, no wondering why,
No time for maybe, you know I’m the one,
It’s time to give forever a firm try
It’s time! No time! It’s time to get it done!
And now I look a doll all dressed in white
The clock is ticking, it’s now ten past ten!
And now the ticking sound of all my doubt
All dressed in white, I must look quite a sight
All dressed for love – a modern Havisham
Tick tock – the ticking sound of all my doubt
Feel free to test my poem for the iambic pentameter. I’m improving but every now and again…well…you know…
Also remember to play around with the form. You could attempt half rhymes instead of full rhymes; you could play around with the rhyme scheme, you could decide to use 13 lines rather than 14. The form should work for you as well as you working for the form.
Below is an example of me going wild with the sonnet form:
BLACK WIDOW SPIDER
Were it that I were,
A black widow spider;
Graced with beauty so elegant;
Warning predators away,
Honing in on helpless prey;
Finely weaving a witch’s web;
The pattern on my back is red,
Eat me, you might find you’re dead.
Love I scorn with plain disgust;
Puny men to impregnate me,
Trick me not; I am still deadly;
On my children I will feed;
It is your flesh that I do favour,
Come here lover; let me savour.
Good luck with your sonnet!