So, it’s been a while, but this series is back, with the finicky world that is the Sonnet. And as if to make matters worse, I’ll be looking at two different types. The Shakespearean Sonnet and the Petrarchan Sonnet. There are more types, there are several types, but unfortunately I am not the great bard and cannot spend my entire day writing sonnets, so I’m just going to be covering the top two as it were.
There are a few key components in a sonnet which is why they are generally pretty fiddly to write. Firstly, they have a strict rhyming pattern which varies based in the type of sonnet you’re writing. They must be fourteen lines in length and each line must have ten syllables in iambic pentameter. They are either split into distinct sections, an octave (eight lines) and a sestet (six lines) or three quatrains (four lines) and a couplet (two lines). Sonnets also generally contain a volta, or ‘turn’ which is the point in the poem where the narrative changes. It commonly occurs on line nine, but with the two I have written for this post, they of course don’t.
Iambic pentameter is simple. Iambic – stressing every second syllable. Pentameter – in a group of five iambs (ten syllables).
the MAN is LOOKing AT the WINdow PANE.
There is, as is often the case with poetry, some license that can be had with this. There are plenty of sonnets which have a line of 8, 9 or 11 (or there abouts) syllables. It doesn’t make it not a sonnet. However, it’s generally good form to not have another stressed syllable or it tends to throw off the rhythm of the poem. By no means either is pentameter the only option, it’s simply the most commonly found. Sonnets can be written in tetrameter (four iambs), or even hexameter (six iambs) and still be a sonnet. The only rules which generally must be adhered to are the rhyme scheme and the number of lines.
A common subject for sonnets is that with the change in rhyme scheme at line nine, the subject also changes or turns on itself. Sonnets are often about a disparity between two lines of thinking, a change of mind or heart and often it’s this vibrant change of form which signifies it. However the volta can come at a different point in the poem, such as with the couplet at the end, or at any point in the latter half of the poem.
Petrarchan Sonnets weren’t created by Petrarch, but rather by various Italian renaissance poets, hence its alternative name: The Italian Sonnet. A Petrarchan Sonnet is split into an octave and a sestet. The octave always has the rhyme scheme:
Whereas the sestet’s rhyme scheme varies between:
CDECDE, CDCDCD, CDDCDD, CDDECE or various other formations of Cs Ds and Es, usually starting with CD.
Take me to a place that I’ve not yet seen.
Somewhere beyond the dull world that I know
to a new place where the street lamps glow,
where traffic is loud and air is unclean.
I’m tired of this nothing where I have been
I’m tired of stillness, of nowhere to go.
I’m tired of stagnancy, nothing to show.
This cottage is empty, and I am unseen.
I’ll pack up my bags and I’ll move away
I’ll run like a deer from a speeding car
And reach my new world, never looking back.
But I could sit here and say this all day
If ever I leave, I wouldn’t go far.
Just the old farm, with the overgrown track.
In my example, I have chosen to use the CDECDE format, and to have the volta on line twelve. In my mind this man is an old farmer, who longs for the buzz of living in the city but knows he’d never really be willing to leave his home and doesn’t really want to anyway.
The rhyme scheme for the Shakespearean sonnet is far more uniform than that of the Petrarchan variety:
As you can see, the poem is split into three quatrains and a couplet, rather than the traditional split of the Petrarchan sonnet. The volta is still commonly found on line nine, which is the case in my own example. The couplet is often inset in the Shakespearean sonnet, and acts as a summing statement for the sonnet as a whole. Notably, however, in my pictured example at the top of the, the volta is on line thirteen.
The Reluctant Construction Worker
He walks with his back bent low to the ground,
lifting the bricks and then placing them down,
his trowel on the clay makes a grating sound.
His slow but sure progress expands the town.
The earth beneath him is compacted tight,
he works in the dust, the grit and the dirt,
the soil is baked from relentless sunlight,
sweating, the worker removes his T-shirt.
He closes his eyes, remembers his past,
and looks at the land his work has defiled
he’d thought that those places he loved would last
but, these were the woods where he played as a child.
The work must be done, the foreman commands,
He has no qualms for his worker’s lost lands.
This is the sister poem to the first one, the character being the polar opposite of the farmer in the first one, he is a city working builder who laments the loss of the countryside, but cannot do anything about its destruction. Sonnets are frequently also elegies, or poems about love of one form or another. I tried to stay true to form with my examples.
So there you go! I hope someone finds this humble post useful, and if there’s anything you want me to clarify or add, please just ask! I may do another post in the future about the less commonly used sonnet forms. If you’re looking for sonnets which are better than mine, well, just look for Shakespeare’s although I’m sure you already have!
If anyone has a suggestion for a future topic for me to cover then feel free to drop it in the comments!