Want to know how to write a sonnet like one of Shakespeare’s? There’s good news and bad news when writing sonnets. The good news is that it’s very easy to write a sonnet. The bad news is that your sonnet will unlikely ever be as good as any of Shakespeare’s… but that’s no reason not to try!
A sonnet expresses a single idea, but it is generally an idea that develops and expands, with multiple facets, leading to a conclusion – and all within a very specific rhyming scheme. In addition to this structure, all Shakespearean sonnets must have these two things in common:
1. All Shakespearean sonnets have 14 lines
2. All Shakespearean sonnets are written in iambic pentameter
(Find out more about what a sonnet is, and iambic pentameter, or discover some wonderful sonnet examples from a variety of poets.)
The 14 lines of the sonnet consist of four divisions, known as ‘quatrains’. The first three of the four sonnet divisions/quatrains have the same rhyme scheme, whilst the fourth and last division/quatrain has a different rhyme scheme:
All Shakespearean sonnets follow this 14 line pattern and rhyming structure. So, now you have the basics, here are the three simple steps to have you writing your own sonnet in no time:
1. Think of an idea for your sonnet
Your sonnet must be about one single idea. It could be a feeling, like being in love. It could be some thought you’ve had about life, or about a person or about people in general. It could be about one of your favourite subjects – sport, music, movies, nature, a book you’ve read, etc.
2. Your sonnet must rhyme in a specific pattern
Your 14 line sonnet must be written in three sets of four lines and one set of two lines.
1. The first quatrain will have lines that end in a rhyme scheme like this: ABAB, for example, ‘day’, ‘temperate’, ‘may’, ‘date’.
2. The second quatrain will use different words to rhyme scheme like this: CDCD, for example, ‘shines’, ‘dimmed’, ‘declines’, ‘untrimmed’.
3. The third quatrain needs different words again, to rhyme scheme like this: EFEF, for example, ‘fade’, ‘lowest’, ‘shade’, ‘growest’.
4. You now have your three Shakespearean quatrains – that’s 12 lines. Remember that a Shakespearean sonnet always has 14 lines, so you need two final lines – called a couplet. The rhyme scheme for this is GG, using words you haven’t used in the rhyming so far, for example, ‘see’ and thee’.
The rhyme pattern of your 14 line sonnet should now look like this: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG
Simple, isn’t it?
Let’s look at a Shakespeare sonnet 18 to understand how the rhyming works, and how the message evolves:
A: Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day?
B: Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
A: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
B: And Summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
C: Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
D: And oft’ is his gold complexion dimm’d;
C: And every fair from fair sometime declines,
D: By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d:
E: But thy eternal Summer shall not fade
F: Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
E: Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade,
F: When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
G: So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
G: So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
The sonnet is about a single idea. Shakespeare is looking at a beautiful summer’s day which, in spite of its beauty, has limitations, and it eventually fades and dies. He’s comparing someone with that beautiful summer’s day but showing that person’s superiority to it. He works the idea through and presents the subject of the poem as having no limitations. Even eventual death won’t interfere with that because the subject will live forever in the poem, which Shakespeare suggests, will be read as long as there are people to read it.
The rhyme scheme is used to change emphasis. Each aspect of the poems’ idea is contained in its own section with its own rhyming word pattern.
Look at the first two quatrains again. The subject is introduced and we are told that he or she is more beautiful than a summer’s day. The defects of the summer’s day are outlined.
Look at the third quatrain. It starts with the word ‘but.’ That marks a shift of emphasis. Now the subject’s eternal beauty is emphasised.
Look at the couplet. It’s a summing up – an assurance that the subject’s beauty will last for as long as there are human beings on Earth. A rhyming couplet in English poetry is always very powerful, and in a sonnet, this couplet sums up and rounds off the poem. It can be used to put emphasis on the main idea, or to undermine it, or to offer a humorous perspective. And in Shakespeare it is quite frequently very personal, in some cases amounting to a personal statement.
3. Your sonnet must have a metrical pattern
The third step in this ‘how to write a sonnet’ guide is to write your sonnet in iambic pentameter. That means that you must use iambus.
Iambus is another word for a two-syllable foot. The first syllable will normally be unstressed and the second stressed. For example, de/light, the sun, for/lorn, one day, re/lease. English is a perfect language for iambus because of the way the stressed and unstressed syllables work.
Every line of your sonnet must have five feet (so 10 syllables). Pentameter means five and iambic pentameter simply means five feet. Shakespeare uses iambic pentameter, not only in the sonnets but also throughout his plays.
Pick up any Shakespeare play and look at it. Choose almost any line, here’s one from Lady Macbeth:
‘But screw your courage to the sticking post’
Read it like this:
But screw/ your cour/age to/ the stick/ing post
Count the feet – there are five. And they are all unstressed followed by stressed syllables.
Shakespeare uses iambic pentameter because it closely resembles the rhythm of everyday speech and he wants to imitate everyday speech in his plays.
Like Shakespeare you can also trot them out. Try it. If your friend also wants to write a sonnet you can practice talking to each other in iambic pentameter. It comes easily. ‘I wonder what my friends will think of this?’ ‘If I were you I’d watch out what I say.’ ‘He never ever told me what to do.’ ‘It’s easy when you think of it like that.’
You can see from the above sentences that iambic pentameter occurs naturally to English speech. So the first thing to do is practice speaking in iambic pentameter. You’ll see how naturally it comes.
You now have to put the three things together – your idea, your rhyming words and your iambic pentameter.
Things to think about
• Use as many visual images (word pictures) as you can.
• Find the right words.
• Don’t deviate from the iambic pentameter or your sonnet won’t work. You can make slight variations in the stressing for the sake of varying the rhythm so that you don’t get too much of a ‘dedum-dedum-dedum-dedum-dedum’ effect.
For example Shakespeare’s sonnet 116 has the opening line ‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds.’ If you read it like this:
Let me/ not to/ the mar/riage of/ true minds
it sounds unnatural, but it is still iambic pentameter. Shakespeare has used iambic pentameter but he’s varied the meter to create a different rhythm. So although it’s basic iambic pentameter we read it with the stresses that come from natural speech. Notice how the first three words run into each other as though they’re one word: letmenot.
The iambic pentameter can be slightly flexible, but you must stick rigidly to the required line structure for your sonnet. Shakespeare makes these types of variations a lot in his plays, and that’s why you can hear the language as real people speak it but feel the basic meter in your head.
Now you know how to write a sonnet, there’s no excuse: It’s time to start work on your own sonnet! Good luck, and let us know how you get on with writing your own sonnet in the comments below.
If you have no idea how to write your sonnet (or essay!) to the level you need, consider delegating your assignments to a service with professional essay writers such as AdvancedWriters.com to take care of your paper immediately.
Can anyone let me know how this sounds first try at this
Lost in time found not inside the mind tends to wander,
Though reality finds me stuck inside,
Not a thing to do but watch a mere virus storm thunder,
Biding time waiting for the masked heroes to take the challenge in stride.
I watched the news on the television until I feel blind
What is fact and what is fiction, the two seem blurred
Neither side seems to be able to become aligned
The normal we knew is now unheard
My freedom is gone, you’ve trapped me inside
Dared not to go out in fear
Toilet paper is hard to find which boggles my mind
Kept from those near and dear
Will this be our modern prison for our sin
COVID-19 our heroes will have the final win
Hi Daisey. The rhyme structure and number of lines is right for a sonnet but you have not written in iambic pentameter (described above, but ten syllables in that are red in 5 pairs – Dah Dum Dah Dum Dah Dum Dah Dum Dah Dum). If I was to rewrite one of your quatrains in iambic pentameter it might look (and sound) something like this:
I watched the news on telly until blind
Fiction or fact? the two become so blurred
So many sides but none that are aligned
The normal we once knew is now unheard
Brilliant write up. I tried my first collection of sonnets https://www.paradoxicalvista.org/8-sonnets-about-the-twists-of-love/ I’m not sure if they are perfect. However, I gave them a try. Any feedback would be absolutely fine. I’ve read a few of Shakespeare’s sonnets and they are beautifully crafted.
THIS IS STILL SO HARD….ಥ_ಥ
This is sensational! Hopefully I’m going to try out one.
Sonnet on Tamil
The subject object verb may in any order!
The context content audience are in need:
Tamil language originated infinite border:
She fed us to motivate in all times indeed!
Language is not only for speak and write:
She evolve asper science tweak and peak!
Tamil after thousand years seek and bright:
She floats in literary space with mock and knock!
Thee classic language is the highest in spoken:
The science with all its petals embed its stylish form!
The mosaic vintage is for people to awaken:
The medicinal world neglect its herbal ancient norm!
Waves not stop touching as the shore likes!
Caves not stop echoing as the pitch likes!
Can someone tell me if this is a sonnet? I wrote it today-
There are some things I often ask myself
While wondering if it will just be dreams
Questioning whether I can reach the wealth
Self worth and success faraway it seems
As I run through this life of mine so crazy
Staying positive as I move ahead
My path can sometimes become hazy
Tripping I continue my uphill tread
Everyday getting closer I feel
Inner peace and fulfillment very near
My dreams are slowly becoming real
My true path to happiness starts to clear
Maybe I answered some of my questions
Using my own power of suggestion
Farewell! You are too dear for my possessing,
I knew from the day you stood at your window
With glowing sun-kissed cheeks that winter morning
Your ruby lips, your auburn hair, your eyes of a doe.
That balcony glimpse soon turned into a sweet flower
In my palm, filling my soul with blissful fragrance; as if
In a swoon, I was oblivious of Time’s ceaseless devour.
It became a make-believe world of pleasures and mischief.
My precious possession, I always hid in my inmost heart,
I knew you will be there enclosed in love till it keeps beating,
Then in a dream I saw a glittering star aloft, like my sweetheart!
It was my priceless jewel stolen, I knew below, as I lay panting.
Thus have I had you – as a dream – like a star in the sky,
As my life of loneliness for me remains my only alibi.
My tribute ti the bard from his signpost opening line. BSM Murty
And yet you bought me
Another day in this cycle of hell
Another suitor to whom myself I sell
sickness hungers for what I can’t afford
Something else to strengthen these chains I’m sured
You come walking in radiance and light
You the king who has come to make all right
The exchange complete and now I am yours
As you tell me I was yours to adore
I drop my shackles and to you embrace
And you wipe away the tears streaming down my face
You pick up my chains and shoulder my pain
And you rejoice as your son is reclaimed
Your life was the cost paid to set me free
yet in joy you went, and yet you bought me
1. Should I boil life to events that blasts
2. Beyond each moment that we can remember
3. And to see each happening to last
4. Beyond control and to complete surrender
1. Would I then contemplate a desiccation
2. Removing all the hard and juicy years
3. To stand alone with facts and dedication
4. Forget the lows, the hardships and the fears
1. No best to look towards the logbook headings
2. The hills the land the foreshore and the steadings
3. Then we can sum the sunsets and the glories
4. In schoolbus runs and tender bedtime stories
1. To add up all the humble tasks of love and daily being
2. Is complex both for blind as well as seeing
depression. i still can’t seem to figure out how to start…. :(