Where poetry-lovers practice poetry

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Inside the Rhyme Machine

A sonnet is a fourteen-line lyric poem usually in iambic pentameter with a carefully patterned rhyme scheme. The shortness and strict rhyme scheme create a musical effect. This is a good form to practice because it focuses and challenges much of the poet's technical and artistic skills.

There are two main types of sonnets: the Italian (Petrarchan) and the English (Shakespearean).

The Italian sonnet has a first division (octave) of eight lines rhyming abbaabba and the second division (sestet), consisting of six lines rhyming cdecde, cdccdc, or cdedce. The octave presents the narrative, states the proposition, or raises a question; the sestet brings the narrative home by making an abstract comment, applying the proposition, or solving the problem.

The English (Shakespearean) sonnet has four divisions: three quatrains (each with a rhyme-scheme of its own) and a rhymed couplet. The typical rhyme-scheme for the English sonnet is abab cdcd efef gg. The couplet at the end is usually a commentary on the foregoing, an epigrammatic close.

Here is a Web site with a long listing of sonnet poets and their poems:


After reading through the poems at sonnets.org for awhile, you might find it easier to write your own.

Here is one Italian sonnet I found there written by Katharine Lee Bates:

To a Crow

Come hither, taunted bird, and I will stroke
Thy ruffled plumage with a verse, O triste
And sombre minstrel at our Twelfth Night feast,
A music masquerading in thy croak.
How often, when the wild March mornings broke,
Have I descried thee, like a demon priest,
Heaping hoarse curses on the riotous East
From the bare branches of some tossing oak!
Yet ever welcome is thy wizard flight,
--Most welcome now, when Earth lies imaging
The sleep of death beneath a winding-sheet
Of frozen snow intolerably white,
A pallid waste crossed by the sudden, fleet,
Beautiful shadow of thy sable wing.

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