Your go-to guide for sonnets. There’s also great
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A Sonnet Has 14 Lines
Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, alas, I may no more;
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that furthest come behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow; I leave off therefore,
Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I, may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain,
There is written her fair neck round about,
"Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame."
The soote season, that bud and bloom forth brings,
With green hath clad the hill and eke the vale;
The nightingale with feathers new she sings;
The turtle to her make hath told her tale.
Summer is come, for every spray now springs,
The hart hath hung his old head on the pale;
The buck in brake his winter coat he flings;
The fishes flete with new repaired scale;
The adder all her slough away she slings;
The swift swallow pursueth the flyes smale;
The busy bee her honey now she mings,
Winter is worn that was the flowers' bale.
And thus I see among these pleasant things
Each care decays, and yet my sorrow springs.
Each line in a sonnet has ten syllables, for
around one hundred and forty total syllables
“Like to these immeasurable mountains”
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Sometimes, a line goes over and this may be due to a pronunciation difference.
“Whoso list to hunt, I know where is a hind”
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
• There are two different types of sonnets we’ll be
focusing on. First is the Petrarchan sonnet.
Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind, A
But as for me, alas, I may no more; B
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore, B
I am of them that furthest come behind. A
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind A
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore B
Fainting I follow; I leave off therefore, B
Since in a net I seek to hold the wind. A
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt, C
As well as I, may spend his time in vain. D
And graven with diamonds in letters plain, D
There is written her fair neck round about, C
"Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am, E
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.“ E
The First Eight lines make up the Octave
Notice that all “A” lines end with “ind”
And all “B” lines end with “ore”
Even in a case like “mind/wind” the early
modern tongue would probably pronounce
this as a rhyme
The Final Six lines are the Sestet.
The rhyme changes here (“out “ and “ain”
Before moving to the closing lines -“am”.)
There are variations on this, which usually don’t include the
couplet and finish “CDECDE”
The Petrarchan sonnet offers a unity that can be realized
through the consistent rhymes.
The Elizabethan Sonnet
A woman's face with Nature's own hand painted A
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion; B
A woman's gentle heart, but not acquainted B
With shifting change, as is false women's fashion; A
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling, C
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth; D
A man in hue, all 'hues' in his controlling, C
Much steals men's eyes and women's souls amazeth. D
And for a woman wert thou first created; E
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting, F
And by addition me of thee defeated, E
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing. F
But since she prick'd thee out for women's pleasure, G
Mine be thy love and thy love's use their treasure. G
Shakespeare’s sonnet structure was innovative and would become the most
imitated of all forms. However, Shakespeare does not invent it but perhaps
This form allows for more room for creativity.
The poem is broken up into Three stanzas and a two line couplet .
Each of these groupings have an independent internal rhyme
If the Petrarchan sonnet is about unity, the Shakespearean offers
Each four lines can act as a poem in itself.
The closing couplet (two final lines) can offer a conclusion, a
commentary, or can complicate what was written above.
• The ten syllables of a sonnet are arranged in
iambic pentameter pentameter.
• An iamb is a combination of two syllables in
which the first is unstressed, and the second is
• When you mark poetry, you use the following
Out loud, you would read it like this:
and HE was ALways QUIetLY aRRAYED
and HE was ALways HUman WHEN he TALKED
For those who write in Iambic Pentameter, this isn’t accidental. The emphasis
works into the thematic content of the poem. Certain sounds are stressed
over orders. If we cut the “and” of these two lines, WAS gets the
emphasis, which puts it more explicitly in the past. Instead, we focus on
the subject of the lines (He) and end with a stressed action (TALKED).
Other terms: Enjambment
• Enjambment is when you break up a phrase, clause, or even a word over the course of two lines. The line
carries over into the next, and doesn’t act as an independent unit.
– Here’s an example from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
An Enjambed line often leaves us with feeling that a line is incomplete. Meaning carries over from one
line to the next.
However in this case, if we took the first line “Let me not to the marriage of true minds” by itself, it means
something a lot different than the two lines together.
Sonnets often change greatly from one line to the next. Lines respond to other lines, and stanzas respond
to other stanzas. In this case, the second line qualifies the first. Otherwise, we’d be left with the speaker
saying something negative about the “marriage of true minds,” but the second line shows that he will
“not” “admit impedients.” That means something totally different.
Alliteration is when there is a repetition of the sound in the first syllables. It’s similar to a tongue-twister, but not that
overdone in a sonnet.
From Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30:
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste:
Notice the “s”es of the first line followed by “summon” in the second, “sigh” and “sought” in the third. All three of
these words are connected. The sessions are sweet and silent but they cause him to sigh because of what he
sought. The “s” lulls us in, first to a happy feeling (Sweet, silent thought) to the melancholy (the sighs of his old
woes). Alliteration serves a purpose to the poem. The sounds
One of my favorite examples is from the Beach Boys’ song Feel Flows:
“Whether wholly heartened life fades away
Whether harps heal the memory
Whether wholly heartened life fades away
Whether wondrous will stands tall at my side
Whether whiteness whisks soft shadows away”
• Assonance is an internal repetition when a
sound is repeated over the course of a line:
– “The scurrying furred small friars squeal in the
– “My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun”
– “The gloves of blarney, they look so charming”
– “My verse your virtues rare shall eternize”
• In that line by Spenser, there is both assonance and
One last thing . . . The Speaker
Be careful in saying that speaker of the poem is the
author of the sonnet. It’s often not the case.
Think of the “I” in the poem as “the speaker.”
So in “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day,”
that’s the speaker talking, not necessarily
Otherwise, we’d have to find some kind of
biographical consistency across the sonnets, and
that’s never the case.
Also, the object of the poem.
• “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”
Our first thought is that that Shakespeare is writing
to a woman. However, he never suggests any
gender – it’s just “thee” and “thou.” It’s often
best to think of the “thee” as “his beloved.”
Evidence suggest that Shakespeare was not writing
to a woman, but to the sixteen year old Earl of
Go here to listen to a sonnet being read!
And go here for some help with poetic terms
And here’s a site that allows you to mark sonnets online
And don’t forget to watch the video I’ve included