Poetry 101: Kinds Of Poems - The Sonnet

Poetry 101: Kinds Of Poems – The Sonnet


Writers Write shares writing resources and writing tips. In this post, we continue our poetry 101 series and explain the sonnet with examples.

In the coming months I would like to discuss various forms of poetry, including today’s topic: The Sonnet.

There are many, many different kinds of poems. Some have very little, or seemingly no structure, like free verse poetry, and others have rigid guidelines and even syllables that have to be counted.

Let’s consider the sonnet.

How do I write thee? Let me count the lines.

A sonnet has 14 lines with 10 syllables in each line. How these lines are grouped together or what rhyme scheme is used determines what kind of sonnet it is.

  • Petrarchan or Italian sonnets are divided into two parts, the octave and the sestet. That would be the first eight and next six lines. The octave has a specific rhyme scene: abba–abba–cdc–dcd or cde-cde. (The sestet also rhymes, but is more flexible). The poem changes or turns between the octave and sestet.
  • Shakespearean sonnets have a different structure. Three quatrains and a rhyming couplet. The couplet is often the point where the poem turns or changes. The rhyme scheme is a follows: abab cdcd efef gg

Interesting facts about the sonnet:

  1. There are many other variations, often named after the poet who made them popular like the Miltonic or Spenserian sonnets.
  2. Sonnets can also be written as a series and then deal with one topic. This is called a Sonnet sequence.
  3. Sonnets have feet. This is often iambic (one stressed and one unstressed syllable).
  4. Sonnets still continue to change and can be referred to as modern sonnets.

Harlem Hopscotch

Here is an example of a modern sonnet: Harlem Hopscotch by Maya Angelou.

One foot down, then hop! It’s hot.
          Good things for the ones that’s got.
Another jump, now to the left.
          Everybody for hisself.
In the air, now both feet down.
         Since you black, don’t stick around.
Food is gone, the rent is due,
          Curse and cry and then jump two.
All the people out of work,
         Hold for three, then twist and jerk.
Cross the line, they count you out.
          That’s what hopping’s all about.
Both feet flat, the game is done.
They think I lost. I think I won.

How Do I Love Thee?

And the ever-popular sonnet by Elizabeth Barret Browning, which I referenced above, How Do I Love Thee?

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Happy sonnet writing.

P.S. If you are taking part in the 12 Poems Challenge, join the group on Facebook: 12 Poems in 12 Months

 by Mia Botha

If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

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  2. Welcome To The 12 Poems Challenge For 2019
  3. Poetry 101: What Is A Poem?
  4. 15 Reasons To Write Poetry

This article has 2 comments

  1. Carolyn McGrath

    Thank you for this posting. It’s interesting to look at the forms poets use and play around with. I am surprised, though, that ‘Harlem Hopscotch’ is described as a modern sonnet as to me it sounds more like 4 beats per line not five and in quatrains with rhyming couplets (rather than the more traditional ABBA or XAXA rhyme schemes). The last stanza is truncated to two lines which coincidentally make 14 lines but I don’t think it has any other feature of a sonnet. I’m happy to hear a contrary opinion and be persuaded, but I don’t see it myself.

  2. Mia

    Hi Carolyn, that is exactly what makes it a modern sonnet and not a traditional one. This quote describes a modern sonnet well: “today’s sonnet can often only be identified by the ghost imprint that haunts it, recognizable by the presence of 14 lines or even by name only.”
    https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/sonnet-poetic-form

    It is also used here as an example of a modern sonnet. You can see a full explanation here.
    http://www.literarydevices.com/sonnet/

    I have found while doing the research for this series, that poets can be divided into three groups: the traditional poets, the ‘don’t tell me how to write it’ poets and then the ones who drift between the two extremes. It is very interesting to read all about it.

    Happy poem writing.
    Mia

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