Poetry Tuesday

Advanced Poetry Lesson: Sonnets, Week 2

Let’s write some poetry!

This Tuesday and last we’ve been writing sonnets!

old woman

A. Introduction to Sonnets:
Why on earth would you want to write a sonnet?

I’m so glad you asked! It’s easy to hear the word “sonnet” and the phrase “iambic pentameter” and be thoroughly unimpressed. So here’s a list of why sonnets are a fantastic poetry form:

       Why sonnets?

  1. Because Shakespeare. Shakespeare wrote pages and pages of sonnets, all in this magical meter called iambic pentameter (which I’ll explain later). Shakespeare, who wrote bucket-loads of plays, knocking the socks off theater-goers in England in the 15-1600’s, is still entertaining us today even after his death (although I’ll keep my socks if-you-don’t-mind).
  2. Because writing sonnets will help us appreciate sonnets. There are countless sonnets out there to enjoy. They also connect us to poets of the past and help us recognize the nuances of their creativity.
  3. Sonnets are like a puzzle to solve. They are the poetry version of  a crossword puzzle or a word search, except that you get to express yourself as you try to find just the right words that fit.
  4. They’re fun! You’ll have to experience this one for yourself. So, are you ready to dive in?!

B. Sonnet Examples

Sonnet III
Look in thy glass, and tell the face thou viewest
Now is the time that face should form another;
Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,
Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother.
For where is she so fair whose unear’d womb
Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?
Or who is he so fond will be the tomb
Of his self-love, to stop posterity?
Thou art thy mother’s glass, and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime: 
So thou through windows of thine age shall see
Despite of wrinkles this thy golden time.
But if thou live, remember’d not to be,
Die single, and thine image dies with thee.
~William Shakespeare

Sonnet VII
O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell,
Let it not be among the jumbled heap
Of murky buildings; climb with me the steep,—
Nature’s observatory—whence the dell,
Its flowery slopes, its river’s crystal swell,
May seem a span; let me thy vigils keep
’Mongst boughs pavillion’d, where the deer’s swift leap
Startles the wild bee from the fox-glove bell.
But though I’ll gladly trace these scenes with thee,
Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,
Whose words are images of thoughts refin’d,
Is my soul’s pleasure; and it sure must be
Almost the highest bliss of human-kind,
When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.
    ~John Keats, 1795 – 1821

C. About Sonnets

Note to Beginners: I recommend starting with “What is a sonnet” below. The goal is fun exposure to poetry and a chance to practice writing. Once you’ve got that first set down, try “What is a sonnet (part 2).”

As I explain all the parts of a sonnet, look at the examples above to help you process.

What is a sonnet?

  1. Sonnet means “little song.”
  2. A sonnet has exactly 14 lines.
  3. For simplicity sake, we’ll divide our sonnet into four groups, or stanzas:
    1. Four lines
    2. Four lines
    3. Four lines and
    4. Two lines.
  4. The example below is actually in one big stanza, which is the way William Shakespeare wrote. (It’s actually called a Shakespearian Sonnet. Hmm, wonder where it got that name!) Since we’re beginners, breaking up the stanzas will make it easier.
  5. Sonnets have a rhyming scheme. Within each stanza…
    ~The 1st and 3rd lines rhyme and
    ~the 2nd and 4th rhyme.
    ~The last two lines in the whole sonnet also rhyme.
  6. This rhyme scheme is often expressed this way:
    1. ABAB
    2. CDCD
    3. EFEF
    4. GG

(Are you lost yet? If it’s really confusing, this Youtube video I found explains it pretty well.)

What is a sonnet (part 2)?

  1. Many sonnets are written in something called iambic pentameter.
  2. Iambic words have a short sound followed by a stressed one.
    For example:
    exIST, beLONG, preDICT, aWAY, aBOVE.
  3. A group of words can be iambic as well:
    the ONE, we PLAYED, you KNOW.
  4. From our example:
    “Rough WINDS do SHAKE…” and
    “SomeTIMES too HOT
  5. Pentameter means 10 syllables per line. Every single time.
  6. (What’s a syllable? A syllable is a whole sound within a word. The word “Cat” has one syllable. Apple has two: “Ap-ple”. “Pine-ap-ple” has three! You can usually tell how many syllables a word has by how many time your chin drops when you say it!)
  7. Look at this line and count to ten: Shall I com-pare thee to a sum-mer’s day?
  8. Try reading through the poem and counting the syllables! Each line has 10.


D. Write your sonnet
Do you feel ready to write your own sonnet? If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try four lines and then take a break. You can pick it back up after the break and write the next one!

Pleased with your poem? Share it on my Facebook page or in the comments!

Hungry for more? Check out this week’s…

Poetry Activity (for kids, adults, and everyone in between): Concrete (Shape) Poem

Poem Study Eletelephony by Laura Elizabeth Richards

3 thoughts on “Advanced Poetry Lesson: Sonnets, Week 2”

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