History That Never Was

Home of Dawn Vogel: Writer, Historian, Geek

Poetry Form: Sonnet

The sonnet is a poetry form that has intimidated me for a long time. I’m not great at poems that rhyme or have a tightly prescribed meter. And anyway, Shakespeare, right?! He was so good at sonnets, how can anyone else compare?

Turns out, Shakespearean sonnets are but one of the possible forms of sonnets. Technically, a fourteen-line poem is a sonnet. Iambic pentameter is common but not required, and even the rhyme scheme varies dramatically between different versions of the sonnet. When you take all of these things into account, the format becomes somewhat less daunting. If you can write a fourteen-line poem, in which the lines each have ten syllables, and those lines rhyme in some sort of patterned way, you’ve got a pretty solid sonnet.

If this all sounds like cheating to you, check out Poetry Foundation’s website and search for some sonnets. Try them out, and you’ll see that they vary widely. I’ve found ones decidedly NOT in iambic pentameter, and even some with variable numbers of syllables per line. And the rhyme schemes vary widely as well!

Armed with this new knowledge (or at least it was new to me when I started poking at sonnets), go forth and sonnet!

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