About the Sonnet
A sonnet is a poem containing FOURTEEN lines that follows a traditional RHYME SCHEME. Each line is written in IAMBIC PENTAMETER, that is, the pattern of emphasis in each line shall be an unstressed syllable, followed by a stressed syllable, as in duh-DUH, duh-DUH, duh-DUH, duh-DUH, duh-DUH. Some lines might depart slightly from iambic pentameter and rhyme schemes will vary.
Some sonnet rhyme schemes are:
- SHAKESPEAREAN SONNET has the following rhyme scheme: abab, cdcd, efef, gg
- SPENCERIAN SONNET has the following rhyme scheme: abab, bcbc, cdcd, ee
- PETRARCHAN SONNET has the following rhyme scheme: an octet (8 lines) of abbaabba, and sestet (6 lines) of either cdecde, or cdcdcd
- NON-TRADITIONAL SONNETS will be considered, with other rhyme schemes, or none at all, BUT must adhere to the fourteen line format, and entirely, or predominantly, in iambic pentameter.
For information concerning other characteristics of sonnets, such as the volta, see sites such as poets.org.
The following sampling of resources contains much more information concerning the characteristics, history, and development of the sonnet form.
- Poets.org glossary entry for “Sonnet,” with examples and further resources poets.org/glossary/sonnet
- Poetry Foundation glossary entry for “Sonnet,” with links to examples of various types poetryfoundation.org/learn/glossary-terms/sonnet
- In Our Time BBC radio/podcast discussions featuring poets and scholars:
- “The Sonnet” bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00547gy
- “Shakespeare’s Sonnets” bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000x6tr
- Zoom video recording of the special presentation, “Turn and Turnabout: Contemporary Sonnets” with Melissa Range (see more on our Special Events page) or view on YouTube