What Is The Basic Pattern Of A Sonnet?

by Amy
Sonnet 29

A sonnet is a revered poetic form consisting of 14 lines typically composed in iambic pentameter, a meter that consists of five feet per line, each foot containing an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Originating in Italy, the sonnet found its way into English literature, where it flourished with distinctive variations and thematic explorations.

Structure of a Sonnet

Sonnets are structured into two main parts: the octave and the sestet. The octave consists of the first eight lines, while the sestet follows with six lines. This division allows poets to introduce and develop a theme or idea in the octave and resolve it or provide a different perspective in the sestet.

Differentiating Petrarchan and Shakespearean Sonnets

The Petrarchan sonnet, named after the Italian poet Petrarch, follows a specific rhyme scheme of ABBA ABBA for the octave and offers various options for the sestet, such as CDECDE or CDCDCD. It typically presents a problem or question in the octave and resolves it or provides an answer in the sestet.

On the other hand, the Shakespearean sonnet, also known as the English sonnet, follows the rhyme scheme ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. It is divided into three quatrains (four-line stanzas) followed by a concluding couplet (two-line stanza). Each quatrain typically presents a different aspect of the theme or idea, leading to a concluding statement, resolution, or twist in the final couplet.

Meter and Language

Iambic pentameter is the predominant meter used in sonnets, contributing to their rhythmic flow and musicality. Each line consists of five iambs, creating a pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables that lends a natural and pleasing cadence to the poem. This rhythmic structure allows poets to craft their language with precision and impact, enhancing the emotional and thematic resonance of the sonnet.

Themes and Content

Sonnets explore a wide range of themes, reflecting on aspects of human experience such as love, beauty, mortality, time, and philosophical reflections. The structured form of the sonnet provides a concise framework within which poets can delve deeply into these themes, offering insights and perspectives that resonate universally across cultures and generations.

Examples and Analysis

Examples of famous sonnets illustrate the mastery and versatility of the form. William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18,” often referred to as “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”, celebrates the beauty of a beloved with vivid imagery and a memorable conclusion. Meanwhile, John Donne’s “Holy Sonnet 10,” also known as “Death, be not proud,” confronts the inevitability of mortality with defiance and spiritual insight.

In analyzing these sonnets, one can observe how their structure and form contribute to their meaning and emotional impact. The rhyme schemes, meter, and thematic development work together to create a cohesive exploration of the human condition, offering readers profound insights and stirring emotions.

See also: What Are The 3 Requirements For A Sonnet?


In conclusion, the sonnet’s basic pattern—whether Petrarchan or Shakespearean—serves as a versatile vehicle for poets to explore complex themes and emotions with clarity and depth. The structured form, rhyme schemes, meter, and thematic versatility of the sonnet continue to captivate poets and readers alike, affirming its enduring appeal in the realm of literature. As readers delve deeper into the world of sonnets, they discover not only the technical craftsmanship involved but also the profound insights and timeless truths encapsulated within these 14 lines of poetic brilliance.

FAQs about Sonnet Patterns

1. What is the pattern of a sonnet?

The pattern of a sonnet refers to its structure and rhyme scheme. Typically, a sonnet consists of 14 lines written in iambic pentameter, divided into two main parts: an octave (8 lines) and a sestet (6 lines). The specific rhyme schemes vary between different types of sonnets, such as the Petrarchan (Italian) and Shakespearean (English) forms.

2. What is the basic form of a sonnet?

The basic form of a sonnet includes:

14 lines in total, structured as an octave (8 lines) followed by a sestet (6 lines).

Written in iambic pentameter, where each line has five metrical feet consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.

Specific rhyme schemes depending on the type of sonnet: ABBA ABBA for Petrarchan and ABAB CDCD EFEF GG for Shakespearean.

3. What are the basics of sonnets?

The basics of sonnets include:

Structure: 14 lines divided into an octave and a sestet.

Meter: Predominantly in iambic pentameter.

Rhyme scheme: ABBA ABBA (Petrarchan) or ABAB CDCD EFEF GG (Shakespearean).

Themes: Often explore themes like love, beauty, mortality, time, and philosophical reflections.

Poetic devices: Use of metaphor, simile, imagery, and symbolism to enhance meaning and emotion.

4. What does ABAB CDCD EFEF GG mean?

ABAB CDCD EFEF GG refers to the rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet. In this scheme:

Each letter represents the rhyme of a line within the sonnet.

ABAB denotes the rhyme pattern of the three quatrains (four-line stanzas).

CDCD and EFEF continue the alternating rhyme pattern of the quatrains.

GG signifies a concluding rhymed couplet that often provides a summary, resolution, or twist to the theme or argument presented in the preceding quatrains.

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