2The man who writes a good love sonnet needs not only to be enamored of a woman, but also to be enamored of the sonnet.~C.S. Lewis~
3Thank you for choosing this guide to assist you in your sonnet-writing journey! This step-by-step guide should be an excellent source for you as you embark on this exciting endeavor!
4Now, before we get started writing a sonnet, it’s important to understand how sonnets are set up. Let’s take a look at one of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnets so that you can visually see how the poem should look.
5That time of year thou mayst in me behold Sonnet 73That time of year thou mayst in me beholdWhen yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hangUpon those boughs which shake against the cold,Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.In me thou seest the twilight of such dayAs after sunset fadeth in the west,Which by and by black night doth take away,Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.In me thou see'st the glowing of such fireThat on the ashes of his youth doth lie,As the death-bed whereon it must expireConsumed with that which it was nourish'd by.This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
6On first glance, this might just seem like a regular old poem, but we would be doing the sonnet a great injustice if we thought that. The sonnet is actually a carefully crafted argument that builds in a very particular way. Let’s take a look at the format of a sonnet and use Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73 as an example of how each section functions.Once you understand how each section of a sonnet is supposed to work, you will be able to write one on your own!
7Quatrain #1: These four lines introduce the main metaphor and theme of the sonnet. That time of year thou mayst in me beholdWhen yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hangUpon those boughs which shake against the cold,Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.Here, we find out that this poem is about a man who’s growing old. He’s comparing his life to the changing of the seasons. The year is coming to a close as fall slowly gives way to winter, and so too is his life. In the first line he makes it clear that he is addressing another person, as he uses the word “thou.” This is the first stage of the sonnet’s argument.
8Quatrain #2: The metaphor and the theme are continued and a creative illustration is usually given to further the ideas of the first quatrain.In me thou seest the twilight of such dayAs after sunset fadeth in the west,Which by and by black night doth take away,Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.We see the same theme continued here, only now the man has shifted from comparing himself to the end of the year to the end of a day. He has narrowed down his argument from a year to a day. This makes the poem seem more urgent because days pass much more quickly than years do. The creative example we see here is the reference to night being “death’s second self.”
9Quatrain #3: Here, one of two things occurs: the metaphor is extended, or a twist or conflict is brought into the sonnet, known as the peripeteia, or the volta. This turn is vital and must be in the sonnet, though some writers prefer to place this in the closing couplet.In me thou see'st the glowing of such fireThat on the ashes of his youth doth lie,As the death-bed whereon it must expireConsumed with that which it was nourish'd by.Here, the argument continues and the metaphor shifts to something even more fleeting than a day—a dying fire. Shakespeare chooses not to include the volta here; he decides to keep it for the last two lines of the poem. Let’s take a look at it that so you can see how it functions in the sonnet.
10Couplet: These two lines summarize the entire sonnet and give the reader something new to think about. They often act as the “thesis” of the poem.This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,To love that well which thou must leave ere long.Here, Shakespeare does not continue with another metaphor. Rather, he gives us the volta that must be in the sonnet. The speaker explains that the reason the other person loves him so strongly is because he/she knows that the speaker will soon die. They must experience all the love they can now, before he passes away. This acts as the thesis because he states that their love is strong, and uses the first three quatrains to tell us why their love is strong.
11Now that you know all the different sections of the Shakespearean sonnet and understand how each one functions, you’re almost ready to write one of your own. We just need to go over a few things about style and form first.All sonnets require the following stylistically:3 quatrains1 couplet14 linesABABCDCDEFEFGG rhyme schemeIambic pentameterLet’s take one more look at Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73 so that you can see how each of these are included.
12That time of year thou mayst in me behold Sonnet 73That time of year thou mayst in me beholdWhen yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hangUpon those boughs which shake against the cold,Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.In me thou seest the twilight of such dayAs after sunset fadeth in the west,Which by and by black night doth take away,Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.In me thou see'st the glowing of such fireThat on the ashes of his youth doth lie,As the death-bed whereon it must expireConsumed with that which it was nourish'd by.This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
13Let’s start by brainstorming Let’s start by brainstorming. Make sure you have a paper and pencil handy. A good eraser is also recommended! Now, let’s begin. What do you want to say in your sonnet? A lot of sonnets pertain to love in some way, but yours doesn’t have to. If you are having trouble coming up with some ideas, here are some things to think about:-school-sports-losing a loved one-falling in love-a pet-a problem-an emotion
14Now that you have your topic, think of a metaphor that you want to use throughout your sonnet. Try to think of something that wouldn’t normally be compared to your topic, and then figure out ways that they are similar. Once you have your metaphor and how you want to compare it to your topic, write it down so you don’t forget it later.
15Now you are ready to begin composing Now you are ready to begin composing. Make sure that you use only 10 syllables in each line, and do your best to keep them all in iambic pentameter. Also, choose your words that come at the end of each line carefully; remember that another word will need to rhyme with it. Also remember that you want to introduce your topic and your metaphor here.Hint: If you’re having trouble with iambic pentameter, go back to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73 and read each line to this beat: duh-DUH-duh-DUH-duh-DUH-duh-DUH-duh-DUH.Quatrain 1:1. ___________________________________________________________ a2. ___________________________________________________________ b3. ___________________________________________________________ a4. ___________________________________________________________ b
16Here, you want to continue your metaphor and your argument, but you want to build on what you wrote in the first quatrain. Remember that you are setting up for an eventual turn that will come either in the next quatrain or in the couplet, so be preparing for that.Quatrain 2:5. ___________________________________________________________ c6. ___________________________________________________________ d7. ___________________________________________________________ c8. ___________________________________________________________ d
17Here is where it starts getting even more exciting Here is where it starts getting even more exciting! Hang tough; it’s hard to write a sonnet and you may be feeling frustrated, but you can do it. This is where a lot of Shakespearean sonnets bring in the volta, or the turn. How can you shift your argument through the use of your metaphor? Do that here in this quatrain. Or, if you wish, save the twist for the final couplet, and build up your metaphor some more here.Quatrain 3:9. ___________________________________________________________ e10. ___________________________________________________________ f11. ___________________________________________________________ e12. ___________________________________________________________ f
18Okay, we’ve come to the final couplet Okay, we’ve come to the final couplet. Make sure to put your turn here if you haven’t done so yet. This is where you need to summarize your argument—remember to think of it as your thesis. Why do the previous twelve lines matter? Also remember that this is a couplet, so both lines will rhyme at the end.Couplet:13. ___________________________________________________________ g14. ___________________________________________________________ g
19Now put your sonnet together Now put your sonnet together. All of your lines should come together in the following manner:______________________________________________________________ a______________________________________________________________ b______________________________________________________________ c______________________________________________________________ d______________________________________________________________ e______________________________________________________________ f______________________________________________________________ g
20Congratulations. You’ve just written your own Shakespearean sonnet Congratulations! You’ve just written your own Shakespearean sonnet! Now remember, just because you’ve finished doesn’t mean you’re done. Good writing is all about revision. Go back and make sure your sonnet is as strong in all areas as you would like it to be. Feel free to edit and revise until you feel like you’ve perfected it.
21The End.We hope that this guide has helped you learn how to write a Shakespearean sonnet. Please contact us if you have any questions or concerns.How To Guides, Inc.1564 Stratford St.Avon, England 01616