Sample English Sonnet Worksheet
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English Sonnet
By Brenda B. Covert
  

1     Medieval lawyer and poet Giacomo da Lentino of Italy created the first sonnet in the year 1230. We called his version of sonnets, “Italian sonnets.” The word “sonnet” means “little song.” Sonnets are structured poems of fourteen lines. The English sonnets that we will study are arranged as three quatrains (stanzas of four lines) followed by a couplet (a two-lined stanza). The traditional rhyme scheme used for English sonnets is abab, cdcd, efef, gg. Each line must be written in iambic pentameter–that is, a line of ten syllables that follows the unstressed/stressed rhythm pattern.
 
2     Beyond the stanzaic structure, the rhyme scheme, and the iambic pentameter, a sonnet must present a conflict and resolve it in the couplet. Each quatrain can present a different point of view about the problem. The couplet at the end is for the poet's final thoughts on the subject. The conclusion can be clever or poignant. It may be a surprise twist!
 
3     From the beginning, the theme of most sonnets was love–romantic, passionate, or unrequited love. William Shakespeare, whose plays are still popular, wrote many sonnets as well. We'll take a close look at his twenty-seventh sonnet. Look at the end rhymes and the structure of the poem. Notice that the first word in each line is capitalized. Then study the conflict and the final thoughts.
 
4     
            XXVII (27)

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body's work's expired:
   He's worked hard all day and can't
wait to go to sleep, but his thoughts
are churning.

For then my thoughts--from far where I abide--
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
   He's lying there thinking of the
woman he loves, and his thoughts
keep him awake.

Save that my soul's imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new.
   He sees her in his imagination.
He dwells on her beauty.

Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.
   His body works all day, his mind
works all night. He gets no rest.

 
5     Shakespeare's conclusion was on observation of the effect love had on him. It kept him awake even when he was desperate for sleep. Many poets use this theme in their sonnets, describing the agony of being separated from their true love.
 
6     The following sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning doesn't follow the traditional rhyme scheme, but it is still a sonnet–and a famous one at that. As you read through it, mark the rhyme scheme in the blank at the end of each line.
 
7     
            XLIII (43)

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
_____
_____
_____
_____


I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise,
_____
_____
_____
_____


I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints–I love thee with the breath,
_____
_____
_____
_____


Smiles, tears, of all my life!–and, if God choose,
But I shall love thee better after death.
_____
_____

 
8     Before you get discouraged and tell yourself that you can't possibly write a sonnet like those, hear this. You don't have to write like that! Those poets perfected their craft with years of hard work! Besides, they were adults who had life experiences that you haven't come to yet. This is NOT a lesson on writing love poetry! Relax as we move on to writing a new sonnet. All that is required of you is to follow the guidelines for structure. We'll choose a topic to which you can relate.

Paragraphs 9 to 18:
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