How to Write an Italian Sonnet

Updated July 12, 2018 Images

A lot of new poets get scared away from sonnets and other classical forms, mistakenly believing that writing a poem with a rigid structure is difficult. In reality, however, using a rhyme scheme and a set rhythm often makes it easier to write poetry because it gives the poem a natural flow and a set length. The Italian, or Petrarchan, sonnet is one of the most beloved poetic forms and a great place to start.

Get acquainted with the basics of the Italian sonnet. Italian sonnets are composed of a group of eight lines called an octave and a group of six lines called a sextet. The first eight lines generally introduce a problem that the last six lines resolve.

Learn the structure of the Italian sonnet. When written in English, Italian sonnets are generally in iambic pentameter. An iamb is a metrical foot of poetry that consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Pentameter means that there are five iambs in each line. For example, the line "I want to speak about Italian poems" is in iambic pentameter. Stressed words are those in which you naturally put emphasis when reading, such as the "Ros" and "red" in "Roses are red."

Learn the rhyme scheme of the Italian sonnet. The first eight lines have the rhyme scheme a-b-b-a a-b-b-a. The last six can have a variety of rhyme schemes, including c-d-c-d-c-d, c-d-d-c-d-c and c-d-e-c-d-e. The letters correspond to rhyming words, so the last word of the first line -- indicated as "a" -- must rhyme with the last word of the fourth line, which also is indicated as "a."

Read some Petrarchan sonnets. Read as many authors as you can to see the different approaches a poet can take to sonnets.

Jot down some reactions as you read. Think about the rhythm of the language, the flow of the poem, the rhyme scheme, the subject and what you like and dislike about the poem. Don't be afraid to get off topic. The important thing is to think about the poem.

Look at your notes. Which Italian sonnets interested you? What ideas did they give you for your own poetry? Feel free to borrow ideas, themes or images from poems you have read.

Write your first poem. Don't worry if it does not come out as a masterpiece the first time you try it. The most important thing is to get a first draft done. You always can come back and revise.

Read your poem out loud to yourself. Listen to the way it sounds without judging it. Read it again. Take notes on what you like and what needs work.

Rewrite your Italian sonnet. This is the appropriate time to be a perfectionist, if you are so inclined. Use a thesaurus to find the perfect end rhymes. Tinker with the poem until you are satisfied.

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  • Be sure to read some Italian sonnets written by American or British authors. Reading poems originally composed in English will give you a better idea of how your poem should sound than reading Italian poetry that has been translated.
  • Put the poem down for a week or two before rewriting it. Sometimes it can be difficult to edit a poem that you have just finished. Letting it sit will put some distance between you and it, and let you have a more objective eye.

Things Needed

  • Notebook
  • Pen
  • Thesaurus
  • Dictionary

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