Saturday, June 7, 2014

How to Write A Shakespearean Sonnet

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     Probably the most well-known style of sonnet is the English sonnet, due to it's other name, the Shakespearean sonnet. I'll begin with the sonnet's structure. Unlike the Italian sonnet, which has two sections, the English sonnet has four. The first three are called quatrains, and the last one is called a couplet. The quatrains are each four lines with a rhyme scheme of ABAB, while the couplet is two rhyming lines. They are all written in iambic pentameter, which means that it has ten syllables, the second, fourth, sixth, eighth, and tenth of which are emphasized.
     So, for example, the first quatrain might be something like this:

One day I woke up and looked around me

And finally saw what it was I had

And asked myself, "How could I not see?"

With all these blessings, I can but be glad

     Not very nice, but as you can see I've got the right number of syllables as well as the rhyme scheme. Now for the next one. Remember, the rhyme scheme is the same, but it doesn't have to match up with the last one.

Certain blessings I saw to rise above

That were far greater than all of the rest

These were the things that had my strongest love

And I wondered which of them I loved best

     Once again, very pasted together (like the addition of "all of" simply to meet the syllable count) but it works. Here you might see that I'm presenting a question. Normally in an English sonnet, the quatrains bring up a question, and the couplet answers it.

So I asked of each, would I live for them?

For my Lord or my writing I would live

Either brother, oh, I would live for them

For my dearest friend, my life I would give

     The only things left now is the couplet. Hopefully that'll turn out better than the quatrain.

I realized then just how I was blessed

That I could not find which one was the best

     There we go, finished. If you'd like more examples (and better written ones) just type "Shakespearean sonnet" into your search engine.
     Honestly, I usually do rhymed free verse, and am not good at making things fit syllable constraints. But it's good to try new things, and so I've required myself to write a poem of each kind I teach, though I'm not fond of it. Anyway, I hope you guys found this useful, and I can't wait to see your sonnets!

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK.

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  1. It's kinda goofy, but here's mine:

    1. I am a red fox, very strong and fast
    2. Out in the forest where I can be free.
    3. After hunting I started back at last,
    4. When suddenly a boy was chasing me!
    5. I ran and ran but he was catching up.
    6. Then I took a sharp turn and quickly hid.
    7. The bark rang through the forest of his pup,
    8. And then the yelling of the brown-haired kid.
    9. Then all was silent, I knew they were gone.
    10. I proudly stepped out from behind the stump
    11. And ran around a little grazing fawn.
    12. I remembered my den was behind a bump.
    13. I tumbled down into my little hole,
    14. And settled down to eat my fresh caught mole.