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A traditional sonnet is a poem of 14 lines. It follows a strict rhyme scheme. It is often about love.

A Shakespearean, or English, sonnet consists of 14 lines, each line containing ten syllables and written in iambic pentameter, in which a pattern of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable is repeated five times. The rhyme scheme in a Shakespearean sonnet is a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g; the last two lines are a rhyming couplet.

If you're writing the most familiar kind of sonnet, the Shakespearean, the rhyme scheme is this:


Every A rhymes with every A, every B rhymes with every B, and so forth. This type of sonnet has of three quatrains (so, four consecutive lines of verse that make up a stanza) and one couplet (two consecutive rhyming lines of verse). The structure is important. But it is not everything. A sonnet is also an argument that builds up a certain way. And how it builds up is related to its metaphors and how it moves from one metaphor to the next. In a Shakespearean sonnet, the argument builds up like this:

  • First quatrain: An exposition of the main theme and main metaphor.
  • Second quatrain: Theme and metaphor extended or complicated; often, some imaginative example is given.
  • Third quatrain: Peripeteia (a twist or conflict), often introduced by a "but" (very often leading off the ninth line).
  • Couplet: Summarizes and leaves the reader with a new, concluding image.

Shakespearean Sonnet Example

    Sonnet for a Poet Grieving

    I grieved for you beneath a waning moon, (rhyme: a)
    while silver tears churned wild as storm-swept seas. (b)
    I wept where faerie forest shade is strewn (a)
    in silken veils of verse swept by eve's breeze. (b)

    Your gilded words designed for love's chaste glance, (c)
    spun free verse stars 'round vernal twilight air. (d)
    But stardust seraphs chose to join your dance (c)
    with graceful steps not meant for me to share. (d)

    And so I sang your name in darkness cold (e)
    and read your much-loved poems to raptured dawn. (f)
    A phoenix resurrection of pure gold; (e)
    your bard's voice rose from embers that live on. (f)

    My emptiness will ever be set free, (g)
    in soul-filled words of love you left with me. (g)
    - written by TheBritsWife
The non-traditional sonnet does not have to rhyme, but it must be consistent.

    Non-Traditional Sonnet Example

    Romantic Interlude

    Trying to read your mind, I'm still trying.
    Please share your deepest desires, pretty please.
    Talking might help, though you don't like talking.
    Tonight's a full moon; let's romance tonight.

    Wonder if we can recapture wonder;
    put it in a jar where it'll stay put?
    Secrets we shared should remain secrets;
    saying 'sweet nothings' goes without saying.

    Fragrance gardens fill the air with fragrance.
    Magic touches paint our lives with magic.
    Cooing of doves serenades our cooing.
    Feather beds for dreams float like a feather.

    Angels tuning heart strings sing like angels.
    Romance replayed rekindles romance.
    - (written by starkat

Examples provided by the writers at View a listing of writing contests online.

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