A lyrical poem of fourteen lines, usually in iambic pentameter, with a particular rhyming scheme:

There are three types of basic rhyme schemes:

#1) abab cdcd efef gg  (English or Shakespearean)
#1) abba cddc effe gg   (English or Shakespearean)
#2) abba abba cdcd cd  (Italian or Petrarchan)
#3) ababbcbccdcdee   (Spencerian)

The Sonnet usually expresses a single, complete idea or thought with a reversal, twist, or change of direction in the
concluding lines. The three common forms are thus explained below.

Shakespearean (English) sonnet has three quatrains that are rhymed differently and a couplet that makes an
effective, unifying climax to the whole.  Its rhyme scheme is abab, cdcd, efef, gg. Typically, the final two lines (the
couplet) follow a "turn" or a "volta," (sometimes spelled volte, like volte-face) because they reverse, undercut, or
turn from the original line of thought to take the idea in a new direction.

Italian or Petrarchan sonnet is composed of an octave (an eight-line stanza that presents the theme), rhyming
abbaabba, and a sestet (which develops the theme), rhyming cdecde or cdcdcd, or in some variant pattern, but with
no closing couplet.  In the sestet, the first three lines reflect on or exemplify the theme, while the last three bring the
poem to a unified end.

Usually, English and Italian Sonnets have 10 syllables per line, but Italian Sonnets can also have 11 syllables per

The Spencerian Sonnet Consists of three quatrains followed by a couplet with an interlocking rhyme scheme
linking the quatrains (abab bcbc cdcd ee) by the use of rhyming lines. Usually the Spencerian poem is written in one
big stanza where all of the verses connect in a whole composition.

Other Types
Clearly, one has the right and freedom to express emotions and sentiments on paper however one wishes. So there
are other types of sonnets that have developed throughout time. However, the sonnet is a classical prescribed
writing format and all writers should respect this format.  

French Sonnet
The French sonnet's rhyme scheme is abbaabba  ccdede (or ccdccd; or ccdeed)
A variant of the Petrarchan sonnet, the French sonnet has a different rhyme scheme in the sestet. The volta (pivot)
falls between the octave and sestet. The meter should be a heroic line, like the alexandrine or iambic
pentameter.French sonnets follow in this same pattern, but normally have 12 syllables per line.

Miltonic Sonnet
The Miltonic sonnet is similar to the Petrarchan sonnet, but it does not divide its thought between the octave and the
sestet--the sense or line of thinking runs straight from the eighth to ninth line. Also, Milton expands the sonnet's
repertoire to deal not only with love as the earlier sonnets did, but also to include politics, religion, and personal

Anti-formal or meta-formal sonnets are occasions for irony made possible by implicit reference to formality itself.
In a sonnet called "Forms from the Reich University," William Heyen created an irony based on the notion that the
Germans who perpetrated the Holocaust participated in a culture that had achieved greatly in aesthetic forms, which
one might call "well-sealed."

This example, below, is for those of you who would like to deviate from the norms, only after writing the required
An example of an irregular, or meta-formal, sonnet (please do not try this type):

"A junior doctor should ...
if possible, establish the origin,
date of birth,
and other particulars....
After the killing of the Jew,
the head of whom
must not be damaged,
he separates the head
from the body and sends it
to the appointed place
in a specially prepared
and well-sealed
iron cannister filled
with preservative." ...


This Cannister of words --Judaism suspended in formal-dehyde.

See other samples of Sonnets in your textbook.