How to Write a Sonnet

The Picnic, by Thomas Cole

A sonnet (derived from the Italian word for “little song”) is a classic form of poetry that’s been used for a long time to convey the sentiments of the heart. It’s structure is simple enough to follow, yet its impact on the reader can be profound and long-lasting. Writing one isn’t too hard as long as you follow the convention – and it’s sure to knock the socks off to whomever you write it to. I’d like to teach you how to write a sonnet by writing one myself, in varying difficulty levels, based on the book, “How to Write Classical Poetry” by the Society of Classical Poets. I won’t be too concerned on making a masterpiece of literature so much as enable you to craft a decent sonnet that you won’t be embarrassed to show off to your friend or loved one.

Before starting to write, you must have something to write about. This seems common sense until you realize that it isn’t that common. In any case, a sonnet can be about anything. It can take on the lofty heights of the cosmos and the deep meanings of our existence, or it can descend into the ordinary, comical or even vulgarity of daily life. Whatever it is you decide to write on, make sure it’s specific. Reflect on this image for a while, see yourself facing the person, situation or object. In my case, I’ll focus on a story from the New Testament, where Peter, the leader of the Apostles is jailed for announcing the Gospel and is due to be executed until an angel visits him and swings all the jail’s doors open, allowing him to escape (Acts 12:3-19). It’s a story that’s had a rich history of interpretation in art and theology, and provides us with some fascinating imagery to contemplate on.

Liberacion de San Pedro, Bartolome Estaban Murillo

Beginner Level: A sonnet is traditionally 14 lines long, where each line conveys a single thought, or image. For this level, we won’t be rhyming. Instead, we’ll focus on jutting down our ideas on the basic form of the sonnet. Try to limit each line to 10-13 words. Below is my first attempt.

Beneath the earth, in Hades’ prison, Peter dwelt in chains.
With guards beside him, and at the door, his sentence for death was sealed.
Outside, with candles and clasped hands, the faithful prayed all throughout the night.
Yet Peter slept in peace, knowing it was all in the Father’s hands.
And so it was, when someone clothed in light appeared to him and said,
“Get up quickly.” The iron chains fell in dismay, yet the guards slept.
Heart racing, he ran up the stairs, with the angel leading the way,
Out of the devil’s den, he reached the surface, the angel went away.
Peter breathed the cool night’s air and gazed at the smiling moon.
He ran again to his friend’s house and knocked at the door,
Everyone was overjoyed and the faithful came together in one accord.
The princes of the world were astounded, Herod’s plans were foiled,
The spirit of God multiplied through the faith of humble men.

Intermediate Level: If you’ve made it this far, great! It’s important not get bogged down with creating the perfect line and simply to get things down on paper (or HTML in this case). The second level can get tricky. Classical poetry is distinctive in its rhyming patterns. Everyone loves songs that rhymes -from Eminem to Tailor Swift, artists recognize the power and catchiness of rhyming. There are a number of ways we can make our poem rhyme. We can use an ABAB scheme (where the first and third lines rhyme, and the second with the fourth and so on) or we can use more exotic schemes like AABBAABBA. You can choose to do what sounds good for you. In my case, I’ll use Shakespeare’s rhyming scheme that follow something like this: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. Notice that there’s a break in the last two lines, you can think of those as the “punchline.” If you have trouble finding words that rhyme, which you’ll most certainly will as do I, then you can go to this great site I like to use: Rhymezone. Below is my second attempt, this time with a rhyming scheme.

Beneath the earth, in Hades’ prison, Peter lay bounded, cruelly chained,
With guards beside him, and at the door, he awaited the sword,
That claimed James, Stephen and any apostle that remained.
Yet the faithful prayed for his deliverance by the risen Word.

Peter slept in peace, in his Father’s hands he felt concealed.
“Get up quickly!” an angel suddenly declared to him,
The iron chains fell at the power now revealed,
Heart racing, Peter ran up the stairs, following the seraphim,

He reached the surface, the angel went away.
Peter, cloaked in darkness voiced thanks to the starred sky,
He ran to a friend’s house where he could safely stay,
The faithful cried, “the Lord is with us, who could deny?”

The princes of the world were astounded, Herod’s plans defeated,
Another victory was counted, to th’ eternal king now seated.

Advanced level: Iambic pentameter coming soon!

Published by Alejandro

Engineer, investor, philosopher and lover of the arts.

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