Poetry Prompts: The Sonnet


In honour of Shakespeare Day, I thought we’d try our hand at a Shakespearean sonnet.

Don’t worry – fluency in Elizabethan is not required!

Though the bard is generally the person who comes to mind when we think of sonnets, the style actually originated in Italy. It comes from the Italian “sonetto” meaning “a little song.”

It was adapted for the English language in the early 1500s, and this variation became known as the Shakespearean (or Elizabethan/English) sonnet.

Funnily enough, the style was a bit out of fashion when Shakespeare began to write them. So they might not have been as popular then as they are now!

Perhaps the most famous of Shakespeare’s is this one:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimmed,

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,

Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

What makes a sonnet a sonnet?

Well, there are 14 lines and 10 syllables on each of those lines.

It’s written using iambic pentameter, meaning it has a “da dum, da dum, da dum” rhythm. Reading aloud helps!

It also follows a rhyming scheme. There are three rhyming quatrains (a group of four lines) and a final rhyming couplet to finish — ABAB / CDCD / EFEF / GG.

The subject is established in the first quatrain, developed in the second and third and concluded or turned around in the last two lines.

I don’t know about you, but I associate sonnets with romance.

So for your prompt this time, try writing a sonnet based on the theme of forbidden love.

Did you try your hand at haiku last week? Take a look at Abbie’s advice here.

For more writing tips, click here.

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.