What is a Sonnet Poem? | Definition and Types

What is a Sonnet

A sonnet is a 14-line poem that is written in iambic pentameter. The term “Iambic” refers to the type of foot or unit of rhythm which in this case is composed of a weaker syllable followed by a stressed syllable.

“Pentameter” refers to the number of feet in a line, which in case of the sonnet is five. Therefore each line in iambic pentameter consists of five 2-syllabled units of rhythm-essentially “Da dum da dum da dum da dum da dum” in most cases  ‘da’ being the weaker syllable & ‘dum’ being the stressed syllable.

Types of Sonnet

The three traditional forms of sonnets are-

Italian Sonnets

Italian sonnets are commonly known as Petrarchan sonnets, after the name of 14th-century Italian poet Petrarca who was also known as Petrarch.

A Petrarchan sonnet consists of an 8-line stanza called an ‘octave’, followed by a 6-line stanza called as ‘sestet’.

This type of sonnet is constructed with a change of thought between the octave & the sestet. E.g. the octave might tell of conflict & sestet telling of the solution.

The rhyme scheme of a Petrarchan sonnet is always abbaabba. The rhyme scheme of sestet may vary but the final two lines do not rhyme.

Shakespearean Sonnet

English sonnets are usually called Shakespearean sonnets, by famous poet & playwright, William Shakespeare. He wrote about 154 sonnets.

This type of sonnet has three 4-lined stanzas called ‘quatrains’ followed by a 2-line stanza called a ‘couplet’. This is the English Sonnet Structure.

The rhyming scheme is abab cdcd efef gg. Each stanza introduces a separate idea but is linked to other stanzas. The turn often comes between the final quatrain & the couplet.

Spenserian Sonnet

Named after 16th century English poet Spenser. Spenserian sonnets are variations of Shakespearean sonnets that contain three quatrains followed by a couplet. Spenserian sonnets, however, in their rhyming scheme, interconnect the sounds of consecutive quatrains: abab bcbc cdcd ee. Example