The UVic Writer's Guide


A sonnet is a fourteen-line lyric poem in a single stanza, in which lines of iambic pentameter are linked by an elaborate rhyme scheme.

There are two main types of sonnet rhyme scheme.

Petrarchan or Italian sonnet
Divides into an octave (eight lines) and a sestet (six lines); the first part rhymes abbaabba, and the second part cdecde (sometimes with only two rhymes, cdccdc). Ordinarily, the octave establishes a problem or situation which is resolved in the sestet.
Shakespearean or English sonnet
Divides into three quatrains (four-line groupings) and a final couplet, rhyming abab cdcd efef gg. The structure of the English sonnet usually follows the Petrarchan, or explores variations on a theme in the first three quatrains and concludes with an epigrammatic. couplet. In Shakespeare's Sonnet 29, the subject shifts towards a conclusion in the third quatrain and ends with the epigram.

For thy sweet love rememb'red such wealth brings,
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

In sonnet sequences, or cycles, a series of sonnets are linked by a common theme. Though sonnets began as love poetry and were introduced to England as such by Thomas Wyatt, the form was extended to other subjects and other structures by Donne, Milton and later writers such as Keats, Dylan Thomas, and e. e. cummings.

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Copyright, The Department of English, University of Victoria, 1995
This page updated May 13, 1995