Notes on Sonnet Form

A sonnet is a poem defined by its form
14 lines of rhymed iambic pentameter= sonnet
Iambic pentameter: a line comprised of five iambic feet (PENTAmeter)
Iambic foot: one unstressed syllable + one stressed syllable

Rhyme scheme: the pattern of rhyme at the ends of the lines
In Elizabethan (English) sonnets, the rhyme scheme is a-b-a-b-c-d-c-d-e-f-e-f-g-g
In Petrarchan (Italian) sonnets the rhyme scheme is a-b-b-a-a-b-b-a-c-d-c-c-d-c
(There is variation in the Italian sestet’s rhyme scheme)
Structural Elements
Octave: first 8 lines( in an Italian sonnet)
Sestet: last 6 lines (in an Italian sonnet)
Quatrain: set of 4 lines (There are 3 quatrains plus a couplet in an English sonnet)
Couplet: pair of rhymed lines, the last two lines in an English sonnet
Volta: the turning point, usually found between the octave and the sestet or at the couplet
Caesura: a deliberate pause in the middle of a line. Used to control meter.
Enjambed line: when the punctuation and natural phrasing forces movement in reading to go right on through to the next line
End-stopped line: when the punctuation and natural phrasing forces a stop or pause at
the end of the line
How to read a poem:
Follow natural phrasing, not line breaks, to pace the reading. Do not stop at the end of a line unless the punctuation or natural phrasing tells you to. Pay attention to punctuation, remembering that a semi-colon requires a longer pause than a comma, and period is a full stop.
How to get the most meaning out of a poem:
Read aloud first to get a feel for the overall tone and subject. Dig the poem’s groove.
Read a second time with a close eye on form and structure (organization).
Begin a deliberate analysis of style (diction, detail, syntax)
Identify the speaker and audience (point of view)
Be open to nuance.
Powerful Poetic Practices
To pack the most punch into a poem, poets use particular poetic practices to push the potency and point you toward profound perceptions and pleasant ponderings. So…
Pay attention to:
Alliteration (repetition of consonant sound)
Assonance (repetition of vowel sound)
Personification (non-human described with human attributes or behaviors)
Repetition (umm…this one is self-defining, isn’t it?)

And of course any simile, metaphor, symbol, or other figurative language. It all counts. You know that.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top