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The Sonnet

Writing.ie | Guest Bloggers | Poetic Licence

Kate Dempsey

Exploring the sonnet as a poetic form, old and new.

A well known poetic form. Have you tried to write in this form? Give it a go. It’s infectious. It has inspired poets from Dante to Shakespeare, Spenser, Rilke, Auden, Dylan Thomas and Elizabeth Bishop

The Basics – layout

14 lines
usually iambic pentameter
See previous post here on rhyme and rhythm

Petrachian Sonnet, the earlier version.

  • Octave (8 lines) (abba abba) or (abab cdcd)
  • Sestet (six lines) (cdc cdc) or (cde cde)


  • Three quatrains & a final couplet (or all 14 lines in one stanza)
  • Rhyme scheme (abab cdcd efef gg)
  • Final rhyming couplet is defining feature

Both forms usually contain a volta, which is a sort of shift in tone after the first 8 lines.

Shakespeare’s Sonnet No 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 dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st 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.

i.e. first half,.
You are lovely like the summer
BUT summer passes and you are forever

How about this one?

Maundy Thursday
by Wilfred Owen

Between the brown hands of a server-lad
The silver cross was offered to be kissed.
The men came up, lugubrious, but not sad,
And knelt reluctantly, half-prejudiced.
(And kissing, kissed the emblem of a creed.)
Then mourning women knelt; meek mouths they had,
(And kissed the Body of the Christ indeed.)
Young children came, with eager lips and glad.
(These kissed a silver doll, immensely bright.)
Then I, too, knelt before that acolyte.
Above the crucifix I bent my head:
The Christ was thin, and cold, and very dead:
And yet I bowed, yea, kissed – my lips did cling.
(I kissed the warm live hand that held the thing.)

Thinking about it, as you may know, poetry in form is not that popular for being published in Ireland or the UK BUT sonnets seem to buck that trend.


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