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How to Write a Sonnet in Iambic Pentameter


A sonnet is a form of poetry with a long and romantic history. The form adds power to writing by drawing on this history. It has a strict number of lines and ways of rhyming, and it uses the iambic meter. The sonnet always has 14 lines and 10 syllables in each line. Writing a sonnet in iambic pentameter is partly about expressing a message and partly about simply writing in the traditional form.

Study

Read and reread a sonnet by William Shakespeare or another poet.

Count the syllables of the sonnet lines. The number is always 10.

Recite the lines out loud, noticing that they seem to limp or embody a kind of drum beat. That is the iambic meter. "Iambic pentameter" means 10 syllables of alternating unstressed and stressed syllables.

Write the sonnet's rhyme scheme on paper. The final syllable of of the first line rhymes with that of the third line. The final syllable of line two rhymes with that of line four. When syllables match like that, they can be written as ABAB. Line five matches line seven, and line six matches line eight, which can be written as CDCD.

Write the rhyme scheme of a whole Shakespearean or other poet's sonnet. It is ABAB / CDCD / EFEF / GG.

Compose

Develop an idea related to a feeling of love.

Write some pairs of rhymes you will use in your sonnet to express that idea.

Write the first four lines of the sonnet in the iambic meter of unstressed then stressed syllables. Use only 10 syllables per line, and ensure that the first four lines rhyme ABAB.

Write two more pairs of lines for the next four lines of the sonnet. Each line must be 10 syllables long in the limping unstressed/stressed beat, with the lines rhyming as CDCD.

Think of a new way to look at the poem's theme as you write the next four lines with the rhyme scheme EFEF. Use the unstressed/stressed rhythm of 10 syllables. Give an unexpected twist to your idea in these four lines.

Write a final couplet with two new rhyming words, GG. This final couplet sums up and resolves the problems expressed in the sonnet's preceding lines.

Tips
  • The iambic pentameter has the beat "di-dum di-dum di-dum di-dum di-dum," and this must be strictly used as the beat of each line.
  • Become familiar with the ABAB, CDCD, EFEF and GG scheme, and do not depart from it.
  • Revise the poem. It will not be right on the first attempt.
  • Approach the poem as a technical task as well as a way to express yourself.
Warning
  • Writing poetry is a skill to be learned as well as a gift. Be prepared to spend many years trying to find your "voice."
Items you will need
Sonnet by William Shakespeare or another poet
About the Author

Jason Powell has been a professional writer since 2004 when he began writing on the philosopher Jacques Derrida. He has published two books, both with Continuum. His work has appeared in "Philosophy in Review," where he writes on general philosophical topics. Powell was awarded his Doctor of Philosophy in 2006 by the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom.

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