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Poetic Form: Sonnet

Most high school English courses include an introduction to Shakespeare and his voluminous collection of sonnets. But, Shakespeare was not the only poet to hone his skills at waxing poetic to his Muse in iambic pentameter for fourteen lines of three quatrains and a couplet. In fact before Shakespeare, Petrarch wrote his fourteen-line sonnets–or “little songs”–in two stanzas as an octave and a sestet. The rhyme schemes of the Shakespearean (English) and Petrarchan (Italian) sonnets are not the same either. English sonnets tend to have a scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFGG while the Italian sonnets are structured as ABBAABBA, then CDCDCD or CDECDE. But, then there are Milton’s sonnets, Spenser’s sonnets, and additional variations of sonnets. (I will be posting my own variation tomorrow.)

Then, of course, there are sonnets written by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Although she wrote from her knowledge of traditional poetry, she added her own contemporary flair. Here are some examples of Millay’s sonnets.


“Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare.”

Four Sonnets (1922)

The themes for sonnets are not always about love. Some present a Petrarchan argument followed by a turn and counterargument towards summation. Others end with a Shakespearean epiphanic couplet. Or they could represent Miltonic self-expression or a Spenserian combination of an argument ending with a couplet. Or they could follow their own variation on the theme.

For more information about sonnets and their variations, go to

I encourage my readers to write their own “little songs” in a traditional format or a personal variation.

Categories: Poetic Form Poetry

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