Poetry Sonnet Ideas with Shakespearean Sonnets Examples
"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" is the first line of Shakespeare's Sonnet 18. In the thirteen lines that follow, the Bard answers that question, describing how his true love is an eternal summer, lasting longer than a season that eventually fades away. The English poet’s love is caught in these eternal lines. Although you may know Shakespeare best for his Romeo and Juliet, the sonnet is a poetic form also often associated with Shakespeare, whose version had fourteen lines written with a specific rhyme scheme and poetic meter. That’s why these poems are often referred to as a Shakespearean sonnet. However, poets both before and after William Shakespeare wrote sonnets, adapting the form to their own voices.
That remarkable human emotion, love, is perhaps the most popular topic for authors, song writers, advice columnists and poets. The permutations of love as a sonnet topic are endless -- romantic love, unrequited love, discovery of new love, loss of old love, familial love, love and death, love and God, love and ice cream. To write a love sonnet, think about what inspires the most joy or pain, and you'll discover a wealth of things to say.
Coming of Age
The sense of wonder and exploration as humans grow and mature is a theme almost tailor-made for a sonnet. For young adults, consider a poem describing a first date, a first kiss or a first achievement. For a new parent, it may be a description of a child's first steps, first words or first haircut. Older adults can draw upon a lifetime of experience, both uplifting and sorrowful, including the death of a loved one, an empty nest, or fulfilling a promise to another. The amazement a young man has when he makes a big life decision, like moving to New York City, marks a volta, or sudden turn or change, that is perfect to write a sonnet about.
You don't need to travel to the ends of the Earth, just take a walk in your backyard, along a creek or through a botanical garden to generate inspiration for a sonnet. Choose simple things, such as a bird building a nest, a caterpillar emerging from its chrysalis, a stray cat chasing a squirrel. Shakespeare talked about the “rough winds” and “darling buds of may.” and “summer’s lease.” Or, write about how humanity impacts the environment -- describe a construction site, a tumble-down barn, or a billboard.
Writing the Sonnet
Sonnet form dictates that all sonnets are 14 lines. The meter, rhyme scheme and tone vary from poet to poet. Each line is usually written in iambic pentameter. Shakespeare's sonnets consist of three stanzas that are four lines (a quatrain) each, ending with a final couplet. The Shakespearean sonnet rhyme scheme is abab cdcd efef gg.
Prior to Shakespeare, Italian poet Petrarch used one octave (eight-line stanza) and one sestet (six-line stanza) to get 14 lines. These Italian sonnets were called Petrarchan sonnets.
Modern and contemporary poets, English and otherwise, have either worked within these boundaries or pushed beyond them. There are many different types of sonnets, using different stressed syllables and different rhyming couplets. The most famous sonnets are the ones we’re used to, but writing poetry is an art and there are many different sonnet examples you may have never heard of.
If you are writing an English sonnet, see the form as a box that you can fill with ideas, but only if they fit. These line poems can be whatever you want them to be; you can get different ideas by looking up other poets like John Donne, Edmund Spenser, Sir Thomas Wyatt, or John Milton, and how they wrote these love poems.
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