Notes on Sonnet Form


A fourteen-line poem in iambic pentameter that follows a strict rhyme scheme.

Iambic Pentameter:

pentameter: five feet

foot: one stressed syllable plus one or more unstressed syllables in a repeating pattern

iambic: an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable: ˘ ´

Iambic Words

˘ ´ ˘ ´ ˘ ´ ˘ ´ ˘ ´
belief arise defend prepare conceive

Iambic Pentameter Lines

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? (William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18)

˘ ´ ˘ ´ ˘ ´ ˘ ´ ˘ ´
Shall I compare thee to a sum- mer’s day?

When I consider how my light is spent (John Milton)

˘ ´ ˘ ´ ˘ ´ ˘ ´ ˘ ´
When I consid- er how my light is spent

Italian Sonnet Rhyme Scheme

  • Octave: 8 lines with 2 rhyme sounds {A/B}
    Usually follows 1 of 2 set patterns: abbaabba or abababab
  • Turn (or volta)
  • Sestet: 6 lines with 2 (or 3) new rhyme sounds {c/d/e}
    May follow several different patterns: cdecde, cdcdcd, cddcee
Dear, cherish this and with it my soul’s will, A
     Nor for it ran away do it abuse. B
     Alas, it left poor me your breast to choose B
     As the blest shrine where it would harbor still. A
Then favor show and not unkindly kill A
     The heart which fled to you, but do excuse B
     That which for better did the worse refuse, B
     And pleased I’ll be, though heartless my life spill. A
But if you will be kind and just indeed, c
     Send me your heart, which in mine’s place shall feed c
     On faithful love to your devotion bound. d
There shall it see the sacrifices made e
     Of pure and spotless love, which shall not fade e
     While soul and body are together found. d

English Sonnet Rhyme Scheme

  • Three quatrains: 4 lines with 2 rhyme sounds
  • Closing couplet: a pair of rhyming lines
  • abab cdcd efef gg
Dear, why should you command me to my rest A
When now the night doth summon all to sleep? B
Methinks this time becometh lovers best; A
Night was ordained together friends to keep. B
How happy are all other living things C
Which, though the day disjoin by several flight, D
The quiet evening yet together brings, C
And each returns unto his love at night. D
O thou, that art so courteous else to all, E
Why shouldst thou, Night, abuse me only thus, F
That every creature to his kind doth call E
And yet ’tis thou dost only sever us. F
     Well could I wish it would be ever day g
     If when night comes you bid me go away. g

Page Last Updated: 17 September 2014