Be a Poet, Write a Sonnet

Structured poems are easy and pleasing to read, but is it as easy to make one? Many definitely know the answer — it isn’t. Writing poems can be easy for some people, but that is because they have studied, practiced, and devoted time and passion to perfecting the craft. Nevertheless, there is time for everyone — time to adapt, time to learn, and time to write. Poets are made, not born. So as long as you are eager to learn and passionate to write, you can, and you will be a poet.

One of the most classical forms of poetry that compelled poets to study as it became popular for its sophisticated, lyrical and rhythmic accents and sounds is the sonnet. Coming from the Italian word “sonetto,” meaning “little song,” this type of poetry has been adored for its charming musical pattern and strength. Sonnets are written as 14-line poems in an iambic pentameter with several rhyme schemes, adhere to the thematically structured arrangement and have remarkable “Volta” or “turn” in the poem.

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Rhyme and rhythm are usual techniques in writing a poem, and learning how to write a sonnet is an opportunity to infuse traditional poetry and new terminologies in the present century to produce more romantic poetry.

There are several methods and tips to remember in writing this “little song.”

Focus On a Theme and Be Specific

Unlike classical sonnets that mostly express romantic love, there is a wide array of themes to choose from. Widen your imagination and do not be limited by your boundaries. Simple yet interesting themes like life, poignant memories, trials, or even funny experiences can result to a good sonnet. Love, of course, can still be your theme — just make it more specific and more intriguing as readers look for new and fresh angles.

Upon deciding on the theme, narrow it down to a specific topic. As much as possible, write something that many people can relate to. But the more original and more specific the idea is, the easier it will be for you to write the sonnet.

Select a Type of Sonnet

There are two major types of sonnets: English and Italian. Italian sonnets, or Petrarchan sonnets, are divided into two stanzas: the octave which consists of the first eight lines, and the answering sestet with six lines. The rhyme scheme ABBA ABBA CDCDCD is best suited for rhyme-rich Italian language (however, English sonnets also have fine examples of such rhyme scheme.)

English sonnets are also known as Shakespearean sonnets, and probably the most famous type. Although this type of sonnet is also comprised of fourteen lines, the structuring of the lines and rhyme schemes follow different rules. Three quatrains followed by a couplet follow the scheme ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. The rhyme scheme, argument build-up in stanzas, and “Volta” or turn will be discussed further on the next points.

Understand Iambic Pentameter

Sonnets are written in a rhythm called iambic pentameter. An iamb consists of two syllables: one unstressed, and then a stressed syllable. Pent means five, so a line of iambic pentameter is made up of five iambs. When spoken aloud, it sounds like duh-DUH-duh-DUH-duh-DUH-duh-DUH-duh-DUH. It can also mean an iamb consists of a weak syllable followed by a strong syllable. Every single line of a sonnet consists of 10 syllables, or five iambs — thus the term pentameter.

Iambs need not be tailored into two-syllable words. The unstressed, stressed pattern can stretch out among separate words or even be repeated within a single word, provided it will result to a 10-syllable line.

Organize Stanzas and Build-up Arguments

A stanza is a group of lines in a poem. In sonnets, four types of stanzas are found, namely: Quatrain (four-line stanza), Sestet (six-line stanza), Octave (eight-line stanza), and Rhyming Couplet (two consecutive rhyming lines). The terms quatrain, sestet, or octet stanzas are also used to refer to poems with these standalone stanzas.

As mentioned earlier, English sonnets are comprised of three quatrains and ends with a couplet. Italian sonnets, on the other hand, start with an octave and answered with a sestet.

One important thing to remember about sonnets or any poem with this point is that it needs to build up as an argument. The metaphors used to guide the build-up as it moves from one stanza to the next.

In a Shakespearean sonnet, the argument build looks like this:

•    First quatrain: An exposition of the main theme through the main metaphor.
•    Second quatrain: Extended theme and metaphor become complicated;
•    Third quatrain: Peripeteia (a twist or conflict), often starts with a “but”;
•    Couplet: A turn that summarizes and leaves the reader with a new, contrasting, or different concluding image.

The build-up shows that a sonnet is a dynamic presentation of one’s thoughts or feelings.

Be Playful Yet Stick to a Rhyme Scheme

A rhyme is the matching sounds at the end of lines. In poetry, letters identify rhyme schemes or patterns of rhyme within a poem — every letter represents different rhyme patterns.

Here’s a look at an Italian sonnet has a tight rhyme scheme:

“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus (A poem engraved on a plaque and placed on the lower level of Statue of Liberty.)
‘Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, (a)
With conquering limbs astride from land to land; (b)
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand (b)
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame (a)
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name (a)
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand (b)
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command (b)
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. (a)
‘Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she (c)
With silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor, (d)
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, (c)
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. (d)
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, (c)
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’ (d)
Unlike the first type, the English or Shakespearean sonnet has the following, looser rhyme scheme: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG
“Sonnet 130” by William Shakespeare
My Mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;(a)
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;(b)
If snow is white, why then her breasts are dun;(a)
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.(b)

I have seen roses damasked, red and white,(c)
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;(d)
And in some perfumes is there more delight(c)
There in the breath that from my mistress reeks.(d)

I love to hear her speak; yet well I know(e)
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;(f)
I grant I never saw a goddess go;(e)
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground(f)

Any yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare(g)
As any she belied with false compare.(g)
Incorporate a Volta

A turn, or “volta” in Italian, represents a change in the sonnet: a change in theme, sound, emphasis, or image of the poem. The “Volta” is used to indicate a sonnet’s ending.
In the English sonnets, the “Volta” is found in the third quatrain (often introduced with a “but”) while Italian sonnets’ “Volta” is often found in the ninth line.

Use Literary Devices

Literary devices (i.e., imagery) add to the sonnet’s creativity and the establishment of vivid images to be conveyed. The choice of words is important as well as the figures of speech to be used — similes, metaphors, and so on.

Sound devices such as assonance and consonance will bring up the musicality of the poem. Symbolism will create a more profound meaning and leaving the audience to interpret.

Writing sonnets can be challenging at first try. However, as with every endeavor in life, passion, and discipline coupled with wit, creativity, and attitude, may surprise you with a beautiful woven piece of your thoughts and emotions.