How to Write a Shakespearean Sonnet

Fourteen Lines of Fun

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A Shakespearean sonnet is not difficult to construct. The difficulty is in perfecting it. Your goal should not be… to create a perfect sonnet on your first attempt. Enjoy the creative process and have fun developing your poetry skills. I will present the basic style components of a Shakespearean sonnet. A sonnet in this style is also called an English sonnet.

Is it Shakespearian or Shakespearean? Don’t get caught and lost in all the details. Don’t stop your creativity from flowing because of a technicality. Have fun and write an English sonnet.
 
Here is Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare. It is in the format you will be learning to write. After all, he wrote it and made the style famous.
 
Sonnet 18
 
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
 
 
 

Fourteen lines (stanzas, quatrains, couplet)

 
You have 14 lines to work with when creating a Shakespearean sonnet. Your poem will take the form of 3 quatrains and 1 couplet. This totals 4 stanzas. A stanza is a grouping of lines usually with a specific rhyming pattern. A quatrain consists of 4 lines. A couplet consists of two lines. Your poem will take on the form below.
 
Line 1
Line 2
Line 3
Line 4                 Quatrain One/Stanza One 
 
Line 5
Line 6
Line 7
Line 8                 Quatrain Two/Stanza Two
 
Line 9
Line 10
Line 11
Line 12               Quatrain Three/Stanza Three
 
Line 13
Line 14               Couplet One/Stanza Four
 
 

Rhyming  ABAB CDCD EFEF GG

You have to follow a specific rhyming scheme when constructing a Shakespearean sonnet. It looks like this ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.  Like-letters rhyme in this example. A rhymes with A and B would rhyme with B and so on.
 
Line 1               A
Line 2               B
Line 3               A
Line 4               B               Quatrain One/Stanza One
 
Line 5               C
Line 6               D
Line 7               C
Line 8               D                Quatrain Two/Stanza Two
 
Line 9               E                     
Line 10             F
Line 11             E
Line 12             F               Quatrain Three/Stanza Three
 
Line 13             G
Line 14             G               Couplet One/Stanza Four
 

 

Iambic Pentameter  “da-DUM”

 
This is the beat of your poem. You can only use 10 syllables per line with an accent on the 2nd ,4th ,6th , 8th and 10th syllable. Do not confuse syllables with words. One word may have more than one syllable. It’s not as hard is it might sound. Iambic means foot or measure. The foot/measure of a Shakespearean sonnet is 2 syllables with a da-DUM beat/accent. Pentameter is used to describe 5 feet/beats. You can look at the da-DUM as unstressed (da) and stressed (DUM)
 
da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM  (this represents a line of  iambic pentameter) 
You notice 5 da-Dum’s which total 10 syllables. Each line must use this meter.
 
Here is a line from a sonnet I wrote specifically to illustrate this Knol.
 
My LOVE for  YOU   is  LIKE the HARD est RAIN (10 syllables)
da   DUM  da   DUM da DUM da  DUM   da  DUM
 
Notice all the words are single syllable words but HARDest. You can stress words with multiple syllables as you wish within creative reason.

 

Telling a Story (It’s not just 14 lines)

The 3 quatrains:
There are many explanations on how to tell a story using a sonnet. I suggest the first 4 lines or first stanza be used to set the tone or mood. It should let the reader know what is on your mind. I suggest using the next 8 lines or 2 stanzas to define the conflict, twist or point of tension. Remember conflict, twists, and tension do not have to be negative.
 
However you choose to use the first three stanzas is up to you. The 3 stanzas can also be looked at as beginning/issue, middle/transition and conflict/dilemma.
 
The single couplet:
You are left with the couplet which is the resolution of the story presented in the poem. The couplet is your summation and conclusion to your story. Have fun with it. You want to make sure you try and tell a story with a couplet conclusion when writing a Shakespearean sonnet. Do not write 14 rhyming lines that just describe love, anger, an object, a thought, etc. The Shakespearean sonnet is not 14 lines of descriptive poetry. It has a beginning, middle and an end.
 
Here is the first stanza of my attempt at a Shakespearean Sonnet. (It is not perfect)
 
My love for you is like the hardest rain.
The warmth of summer, held in every drop.
A love, I dreamed, I hoped I would attain.
But now I fear, this rain may fall and stop. 
(Notice how it has changed down below. It is important to just write.)
 
It is a quatrain with ABAB rhyme scheme. It follows the definition of iambic pentameter. There are 10 syllables in each line with a da-DUM stress when reading. Perfection is not the goal. Learning and having fun is the goal. I set the tone and begin to move to the middle part of my story.
 
 

Punctuation

You can use punctuation as you wish. I suggest you only use it to aid in the flow of the poem when read aloud. Essentially, punctuation should provide a pause or bring an end to a thought.

Punctuation also allows you to break up your line. You don’t have to write a continuous sentence. Your 10 syllables can be broken up by punctuation to convey your idea and maintain the form of the sonnet.

 

Creating the Sonnet

The theme can be anything you wish but Shakespearean sonnets often take on the realms of love, beauty, immortality, or human life in general. I suggest doing a web search of sonnets to stimulate your creative process.
 
The best way to write your Shakespearean sonnet is to grab a sheet of paper and write 10 dashes on it with the da-DUM below the dashes.
 
_____    _____    _____    _____    _____    _____    _____    _____    _____    _____
da          DUM     da          DUM     da          DUM     da          DUM     da          DUM
 
My LOVE  for   YOU  is  LIKE the HARD  est RAIN
da   DUM   da   DUM da DUM da  DUM   da  DUM
 
That is your basic template to repeat through out your poem. Remember you will need 14 lines made up of 4 stanzas. This includes 3 quatrains and 1 couplet. Enjoy!
 
 

My Sonnet

I am writing a sonnet for this Knol. I will update this section as I create it. They take time. So don’t feel you must create one in a single sitting. Many poets take a year to finish a poem. Just have fun and get started.
 
2/19/2009
Stanza One
My love for you is like the hardest rain.         or  Your love for me is like the hardest rain.
The warmth of summer, held in every drop.
This love, my hope, a dream I would attain.    or  This love, my hope – a dream I would attain.
But now I fear, your rain may fall and stop.
 
2/20/2009
Stanza Two
This rain I know as love, can soak and drown.
The sun may rise to take its depth away.
To gain, to lose, to love so deep; letdown.
A shadow walks. What does my doubt convey?

 2/20/2009
Stanza Three
My love for you both hurts and overwhelms.
With joy of life, a priceless wine in taste.
To think that you reside in counter realms.
Inside I feel a shadow;  love displaced.

2/20/2009

Stanza Four
The fear of loss or love so deep and pure?
For love I choose… the one I most adore.


Edward’s Swan (First Version)
 
Your love for me is like the hardest rain.
The warmth of summer, held in every drop.
This love, my hope – a dream I would attain.
But now I fear, your rain may fall and stop.
 
This rain I know as love, can soak and drown.
The sun may rise to take its depth away.
To gain, to lose, to love so deep; letdown.
A shadow walks. What does my doubt convey?

My love for you both hurts and overwhelms.
With joy of life, a priceless wine in taste.
To think that you reside in counter realms.

Inside I feel a shadow;  love displaced.

The fear of loss or love so deep and pure?
For love I choose… the one I most adore.
Copyright February 2009 Gary Pilarchik

 
 

Edward’s Lost Swan

(The final Verison 2/24/09)

 
Your love for me is like the hardest rain.
The warmth of summer, held in every drop.
This love, my hope – a dream I would attain.
But now I fear, this rain may fall and stop.
 
Your rain I know as love, can soak and drown.
The sun may rise to take its depth away.
To gain, to lose, to love so deep; letdown.
A shadow stalks. What does my doubt convey?
 
My love for you both hurts and overwhelms:
With joy of life, a priceless wine in taste.
To think that love resides in counter realms:
Inside, I know the pain, of love displaced.

To fear to lose or love so deep and pure?
For love I choose… the one I most adore.
Copyright February 2009 Gary Pilarchik
 
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