A sonnet is a specific type of poem that is written using iambic pentameter (10 syllables per line that alternate unstressed and then stressed). It always has 14 lines, and it also has a specific rhyme scheme.
A Shakespearian, or English, sonnet has a rhyme scheme of abab, cdcd, efef, gg.
A Petrarchan sonnet is divided into 8 lines and then 6 lines. The first 8 have a rhyme scheme of abbaabba. The last 6 lines could have a rhyme scheme of cdecde or cdcdcd.
Examples of Shakespearian Sonnets
Sonnet 55, Shakespeare
Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword, nor war's quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
'Gainst death, and all oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes.
When I have Fears that I May Cease to Be, John Keats
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charact'ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripened grain;
When I behold upon the night's starred face
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love! -then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think,
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.
Examples of Petrarchan Sonnets
On His Blindness, John Milton
When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide,
Lodg'd with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, least he returning chide,
Doth God exact day-labour, light deny'd,
I fondly ask; But patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts, who best
Bar his milde yoak, they serve him best, his State
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o're Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and waite.
Chaos in 14 Lines, Edna St. Vincent Millay
I will put Chaos into fourteen lines
And keep him there; and let him thence escape
If he be lucky; let him twist, and ape
Flood, fire, and demon--his adroit designs
Will strain to nothing in the strict confines
Of this sweet Order, where, in pious rape,
I hold his essence and amorphous shape,
Till he with Order mingles and combines.
Past are the hours, the years, or our duress,
His arrogance, our awful servitude:
I have him. He is nothing more than less
Than something simple not yet understood;
I shall not even force him to confess;
Or answer. I will only make him good.
Literary Terms Examples