Saturday, September 17, 2011

Poetry Prompt #71 – The Sonnet

Following the recent loss of her beloved cat Shakespeare, one of my poet friends adopted a beautiful little calico kitten, which she named “Sonnet.” Thinking about Shakespeare (the cat) and Sonnet (the kitten) turned my thoughts to literary sonnets, traditional and modern. 

Any kind of formal poem can be a challenge, but the sonnet is relatively simple. So … this week, let’s have some fun writing sonnets. We’ll focus on the Shakespearean sonnet, but if you’d like to experiment with the Petrarchan (Italian sonnet that consists of two sections – one eight-line section, the octave, and one six-line section, the sestet) or other forms, here’s a link that should be helpful: Of course, you may want to depart from the traditional altogether and create a  sonnet form of your own!

Shakespeare is perhaps the most famous of all sonnet poets, but many others have used the form over the centuries, and some interesting experimental forms have evolved. A conventional Shakespearean sonnet is comprised of fourteen lines (three stanzas of four lines (quatrains), and a fourth of two lines, or a couplet at the end). In each of the first three stanzas, rhyme the first and third lines and the second and fourth lines (a, b, a, b, c, d, c, d, e, f, e, f); and rhyme the lines of the concluding couplet (g, g). Sonnets have a musical quality, usually achieved through use of iambic pentameter and rhyme. (Did you know that when we speak naturally, we often speak in iambic pentameter?) To learn more about iambic pentameter, here’s the link to an informative site: To get a practical sense of iambic pentameter and the sound quality of a sonnet, read some Shakespearean sonnets aloud. (Be aware that in sonnets exact rhymes aren’t absolutely required, and off-rhymes occur in some of the best sonnets.)

Shakespearean Sonnet:

Additional Sonnets by William Shakespeare:

Modern Sonnets:

Some contemporary poets have stretched the traditional sonnet into a form that barely remembers its history and bears little resemblance to conventional form other than the presence of fourteen lines (and, in some cases, only the word sonnet in the title). These and the so-called American sonnets have been written by Gerald Stern, Wanda Coleman, Ted Berrigan, and others.


After you’ve written your sonnet, read one by Shakespeare aloud, then read yours aloud. How do the poems compare in terms of sonic impression?

Top Photo: Shakespeare's Birthplace, Stratford-Upon-Avon, England


  1. Very, very interesting, molto, molto interessante.
    Grazie, Adele, come sempre!

  2. Molte grazie, Jago!

    So glad you enjoyed this week's prompt.

    Your comments and support are much appreciated!

  3. Really great to explore some of the traditional forms along with your other prompts. Thanks, as always, for this superb blog!

  4. Thanks, Bob's Mustangs! Always good to hear from you!

  5. Great, as always, Adele!

    Seeing the picture of Shakespeare's birthplace brought back wonderful memories of my visit to England a few years ago. I think I just might dig out the photo album and write a sonnet!


  6. Jamie,

    I loved Stratford -Upon-Avon! Thanks for reminding me about old photo albums -- I think I'll dig mine out too!

    Good luck writing your sonnet!

  7. Any thoughts on the "Dark Lady" sonnets?

    Interesting reading:

  8. Thanks, Bob!

    The "Dark Lady" mystery is definitely intriguing!

    Thanks for posting the related urls.

    A few of the "Dark Lady" Sonnets:


    In the old age black was not counted fair,
    Or if it were, it bore not beauty's name;
    But now is black beauty's successive heir,
    And beauty slandered with a bastard shame:
    For since each hand hath put on Nature's power,
    Fairing the foul with Art's false borrowed face,
    Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower,
    But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace.
    Therefore my mistress' eyes are raven black,
    Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem
    At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,
    Sland'ring creation with a false esteem:
    Yet so they mourn becoming of their woe,
    That every tongue says beauty should look so.


    How oft when thou, my music, music play'st,
    Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds
    With thy sweet fingers when thou gently sway'st
    The wiry concord that mine ear confounds,
    Do I envy those jacks that nimble leap,
    To kiss the tender inward of thy hand,
    Whilst my poor lips which should that harvest reap,
    At the wood's boldness by thee blushing stand!
    To be so tickled, they would change their state
    And situation with those dancing chips,
    O'er whom thy fingers walk with gentle gait,
    Making dead wood more bless'd than living lips.
    Since saucy jacks so happy are in this,
    Give them thy fingers, me thy lips to kiss.


    The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
    Is lust in action: and till action, lust
    Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
    Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
    Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight;
    Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,
    Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait,
    On purpose laid to make the taker mad.
    Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
    Had, having, and in quest to have extreme;
    A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
    Before, a joy proposed; behind a dream.
    All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
    To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.


    My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
    Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
    If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
    If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
    I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
    But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
    And in some perfumes is there more delight
    Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
    I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
    That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
    I grant I never saw a goddess go,
    My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
    And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
    As any she belied with false compare.


    Thou art as tyrannous, so as thou art,
    As those whose beauties proudly make them cruel;
    For well thou know'st to my dear doting heart
    Thou art the fairest and most precious jewel.
    Yet, in good faith, some say that thee behold,
    Thy face hath not the power to make love groan;
    To say they err I dare not be so bold,
    Although I swear it to myself alone.
    And to be sure that is not false I swear,
    A thousand groans, but thinking on thy face,
    One on another's neck, do witness bear
    Thy black is fairest in my judgment's place.
    In nothing art thou black save in thy deeds,
    And thence this slander, as I think, proceeds.


    Thine eyes I love, and they, as pitying me,
    Knowing thy heart torments me with disdain,
    Have put on black and loving mourners be,
    Looking with pretty ruth upon my pain.
    And truly not the morning sun of heaven
    Better becomes the grey cheeks of the east,
    Nor that full star that ushers in the even,
    Doth half that glory to the sober west,
    As those two mourning eyes become thy face:
    O! let it then as well beseem thy heart
    To mourn for me since mourning doth thee grace,
    And suit thy pity like in every part.
    Then will I swear beauty herself is black,
    And all they foul that thy complexion lack.