30 July 2012

Our Lost Jungle Poetry Form Challenge: Challenge #5 --- Sonnet

Good morning, poets, and welcome to the fifth week of the Our Lost Jungle Poetry Form Challenge! In case you haven’t noticed, our forms have been getting a little longer each week at this point, and including more elements that we’ve worked with from week one onward. This week, we will engage with everything we’ve done so far, from rhyme scheme to meter, to play with a form fit for a Queen.

The OLJ Poetry Form Challenge #5: Sonnet
Defining it

The sonnet is not a particularly complicated form; the numbers of variations in the form’s basic rules just make it look that way. Perhaps the hardest part of writing a sonnet is working in metered lines, and many modern poets have all but given up on that rule. The basic “rules” of a sonnet are as follows:

1. A sonnet consists of 14 lines.
2. Sonnets are usually (but not always) written in iambic pentameter. (You may remember from Challenge #1 that this is one of the most common meters, if not the most common.)
3. Sonnets usually (but do not always) rhyme.

When it comes to the last rule in particular, poets are given a lot of freedom. It helps that there are at least three “common” forms of sonnets: Petrarchan (also known as an Italian sonnet), Shakespearean (also called an Elizabethan [thus the Queen reference earlier], or English, sonnet), and Spenserian. (I put common in quotes above because, while these are the three most frequently taught, I’m sure other forms may be just as common but taught/mentioned less often.)

For a Shakespearean sonnet, the rules are:

1. 14 lines, written in iambic pentameter
2. The 14 lines are structured in three quatrains and a couplet
3. The third quatrain typically introduces a volta (that is, a “turn” in the theme or imagery)
4. The couplet presents the actual volta, and usually summarizes the theme or message of the sonnet
5. The rhyme scheme is typically ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG

Ironically, despite the “favoritism” often shown toward Shakespeare’s sonnets, they are actually an adaptation of the sonnet structure originally used by Giacomo da Lentini and popularized by Petrarch. The rules of a Petrarchan sonnet are:

1. 14 lines, written in iambic pentameter
2. The 14 lines are structured in two parts: an octave, which describes the problem of the poem, and a sestet, which provides the resolution
3. The ninth line typically contains a volta that signals the “turn” from discussing the problem to presenting the solution
4. The rhyme scheme of the octave is usually ABBA, ABBA. The sestet has more flexibility, and while Petrarch commonly used a rhyme scheme of CDE, CDE or CDC, DCD, other common rhyme schemes for the sestet include CDD, CDD; CDD, ECE, and CDD, CCD.

The Spenserian sonnet, considered a variant of the Shakespearean sonnet, typically follows these guidelines:

1. 14 lines, written in iambic pentameter
2. The 14 lines are typically structured as three quatrains and a couplet.
3. The quatrains are linked by an “interlocking” rhyme scheme (ABAB, BCBC, CDCD); the last two lines are a couplet rhymed EE.

I know that looks like a lot of rules, but you can see that the variations aren't that major, and there are a lot of "typically" statements, which means those rules are still flexible! (To learn more about the history and structure of sonnets, check out this website.)

Doing it

Your challenge this week is to write three sonnets. Because so many of us are familiar with the Shakespearean sonnet, I’d like you to work with two different sonnet forms. One could be Shakespearean, but the other should be one you’re less familiar with. This includes the Petrarchan and Spenserian forms detailed above, but could also include: Occitan, Urdu, Caudate, or Dante’s variation, etc. Your third sonnet should be a modern sonnet in which you play with the form; give it your own variations, mess with the rhyme scheme (or don’t rhyme at all), change up the meter, and just have fun with it. (Some of the best sonnets, in my opinion, are sneaky sonnets … the ones you don’t realize are sonnets until you’ve read them for the tenth time. Try to write one of those.)

Fun it up!

As always, for a chance to be this week’s featured poet you must submit your poems by 10pm (EDT) on Thursday (8-2). Feel free to share your attempts in the comments below, post a link to your attempt on your own blog or website, or email them to ourlostjungle@kharahouse.com.

This time around, I’d also like you to please indicate which type of sonnet you’ve written and submitted; just add the form in parentheses at the end of your poem’s title. Why? Because for this week’s challenge, I’ll be featuring both a traditional sonnet and a modern sonnet! Both poems won't necessarily come from the same poet (though they might, if you're just awesome like that), so be sure to submit as many as you like, and make sure they're your best!

Good luck!


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Get caught up with the Our Lost Jungle Poetry Form Challenge:


  1. The sonnet is my favorite form, right above haiku. I far prefer iambic pentameter, though it is more restrictive when composing the poem. It just sounds wonderful to my ear. Here is one of the first I wrote ... for my granddaughter, Sophia Rose (Sophie).


    A woman knows instinctively, it seems,
    Which moments will leave prints upon her soul.
    Her future life weaves fabric through her dreams
    And writes upon her heart, as though a scroll.

    A woman thinks she knows what to expect
    From pioneering moments in her world -
    Anticipation of events’ effects,
    And how her heart will feel as they’re unfurled.

    Yet, there was I, as wholly unprepared
    As if I’d never given you a thought.
    My heart and hub were all-at-once ensnared –
    I would convey in words, yet I cannot.

    Sophia Rose: a gift from God above –
    New life. New breath. New gift. New print. New love.

  2. ... and one with a different rhyme scheme than my "PRINTS."


    He clothes me in His robe of purity,
    That I might gaze on Him, and He on me.
    Yet, fraught with doubt and insecurity,
    I meekly bow my head, and bend my knee.

    While others raise their hands in praise to Him,
    Mine cover up my lowered face in shame
    As “lifting holy hands” rings out in hymn,
    My sinner’s hands and heart hold fast to blame.

    When all at once I hear His still, small voice,
    And feel His gentle lifting of my face.
    “Come BOLDY to My throne, My child. Rejoice!
    I’ve clothed you with My mercy and My grace.”

    With grateful heart, I worship and adore
    This One who clothes me pure forevermore.

  3. Absolutely wonderful, Marie. "Prints" is familiar to me, though I can't say why. This second one, however, is a different matter altogether. Use the couplet as the refrain and you'd have the perfect hymn. You really do need to put together than collection of ins
    pirational poems, you know.

    1. You're so kind ... thank you! Yes, Prints was out on Walt's and my "Across the Lake, Eerily" blog.

      Thanks again, my friend. Always a huge support for all of us.

  4. Khara, sonnets and I don't usually mix, but I'll try. We'll see if I can come up with something. It's the whole iambic thing, you know. My feet are my rhythm makers. My words seldom do more than thump and irregular intervals.

    1. I understand that feeling! Maybe in your case you'd want to focus more on a "modern" sonnet, to grant yourself more leeway when it comes to that meter!

  5. Khara, I have wormed my way through a semblance of sonnet. I have one which speaks to this challenge from deep within. So bothered was I at thoughts of this task, slumber was denied me. Please, don't ask. Right now, I'm not sure I managed sonnet or not. Syllables I count without thought or care. It's the beat throws me into dragon's lair.

    Arduous Work (Spenserian)

    Sonnets and I have fought before,
    Phrases and words do fill my head,
    Measurements and pacing galore,
    And rhyme’s promise to prove my dread.

    Sometime before I go to bed,
    Muse will bring forth the troubadour,
    With care, not ease, I will be led
    Toward poetry’s lines to explore.

    Long since Muse has opened her door
    Or allowed metered time full sway,
    Since she rose from a poet’s snore
    To give me a rhyming buffet.

    Hope’s long chain of dreams reminisce,
    When meter spoke through rhyme and bliss.

    1. Go Clauds Go!!! Great work here! Now ... sleep well!


  6. Still haven't gotten to more sonnets. Will be trying for two more. I'm working on it, honestly.

    And thanks, meg.

  7. Okay. This is my second attempt. Not elegant, but finished. Not terrific, but an effort.


    Up there the mountain sleeps, alive but lone,
    Its face a study in crags and dark folds.
    Could such a beast fail warning with its moans
    What danger lurks within its granite holds?

    Ice floes as tresses down sides worn with time--
    Building, moving, growing over the years.
    Yet inner heat builds too, lingers sublime
    And creates tiny, hidden streams of tears

    To slide beneath, to cut within ice sheets,
    Cleaning rock faces that never see light.
    Much heaving will come once rock greatly heats
    And rises toward the sky, flexing its might.

    New weather builds, forms within clouds of ash,
    Before lava flows and lightning bolts clash.

  8. Taking a final stab at this form. Hope you enjoy.

    Human Endeavor

    Upon this pillow of time’s long regret
    Ride ships of intent for making man’s place
    One to rival all that God could create,
    To shine a beam across Heaven’s face.

    Man’s self-praise arrives on servant’s bare backs,
    Amid swelling stripes of work’s occasions,
    Beneath wheels of time along rutted tracks,
    Looking back to see man’s past persuasions.

    Deep within life’s book of desire’s intent
    Fires burn, banked by goals' high aspiration,
    Willing to sacrifice for attainment,
    Pride’s light to burst forth, shining salvation.

    Beware cliff-side’s proximity always,
    For fall’s tolls can usher in great malaise.

  9. OK. This is rough but this is an exercise, piano scales, in poetic form, right? I'd say I'm quite rusty. Hand me the WD-40. I'll need the entire bottle, sprayed liberally along with a lot more time at it for me to loosen up on the sonnet.

    Tis backward we think first of form and write
    Using the mind like a dam on the heart streams,
    For thoughts in straits never sail blithe as kites
    When sound is leveraged and cans the dreams.

    Verse needs some latitude and longitude
    the wide open air, an untamed sea,
    Writ large by a lad who can be rude
    Or a small girl singing, playing at tea.

    Those so unhindered can be debonair
    Not collared and leashed by poetry’s rules,
    Yet formless they fall into vanity's fair,
    Playing the part well of poetry’s fools?

    What comes first and fast has the fire
    But to enchant we learn to play the lyre.


Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

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