Celebrating East African Writing!

Writing Sonnets – Storymoja Blog’s Poetry Week

When you bring it down to the most basic definition, a sonnet is a poem that follows a specific structure and shows two related but different things to communicate contrastive ideas, emotions, states of mind, beliefs, actions, events, images, etc., by juxtaposing the two against each other, and possibly resolving or just revealing the tensions created and operative between the two.

Sonnets are characteristically made of 14 lines, but the structure and rhyme would differ depending on the type of sonnet created.

I, for some very strangely masochistic reason, I have kept some of my school books that cover High School English Literature. Anyway, when I could get past my own embarrassment of looking into my youth, I found this sonnet.

This Destiny! What a Mutiny!

He says our lives are written in the sands

That fate has known our dreams since then

I say my life is written in my own hands

My words in my mouth they tremble then

Did fate choose for my heart to love then?

Or did I will with my mind this love to grow?

For if the first, I have no blame then

As for the second my sins surely flow

But for him my heart yearns so

And know no reasons and no shame!

In the darkness it will brightly glow

So that to hide it is only a game

In the end whether fate or destiny

It is my heart that has chosen a mutiny.

I am not sure that I knew what it was I was writing, in fact, I can’t remember who the object of this sonnet is based. I think I know, but I shall not reveal it.  Its too embarrassing! Anyway…

Good or bad, This Destiny! What a Mutiny! is made in the form of a Spenserian Sonnet. The Spenserian sonnet, invented by Edmund Spenser as an outgrowth of the stanza pattern he used in The Faerie Queene (a b a b b c b c c), has the pattern:

a b a b b c b c c d c d e e

The “abab” pattern sets up distinct four-line groups, each of which develops a specific idea; however, the overlapping a, b, c, and d rhymes form the first 12 lines into a single unit with a separated final couplet.

The three quatrains then develop three distinct but closely related ideas, with a different idea (or commentary) in the couplet.

Interestingly, Spenser often begins L9 of his sonnets with “But” or “Yet,” indicating a volta exactly where it would occur in the Italian sonnet; however, if one looks closely, one often finds that the “turn” here really isn’t one at all, that the actual turn occurs where the rhyme pattern changes, with the couplet, thus giving a 12 and 2 line pattern very different from the Italian 8 and 6 line pattern (actual volta marked by italics). See for example, Spencer’s Sonnet LIV

Sonnet LIV

Of this World’s theatre in which we stay,

My love like the Spectator idly sits,

Beholding me, that all the pageants play,

Disguising diversely my troubled wits.

Sometimes I joy when glad occasion fits,

And mask in mirth like to a Comedy;

Soon after when my joy to sorrow flits,

I wail and make my woes a Tragedy.

Yet she, beholding me with constant eye,

Delights not in my mirth nor rues my smart;

But when I laugh, she mocks: and when I cry

She laughs and hardens evermore her heart.

What then can move her? If nor mirth nor moan,

She is no woman, but a senseless stone

 There are two other forms of Sonnets, which are more common perhaps.

The Italian (or Petrarchan) Sonnet: The Italian sonnet is made up of two quatrains, two sets of four lines of poetry with two rhyming sounds.

a b b a a b b a

The remaining 6 lines is called the sestet (made up of two tercets – two sets of three lines of poetry) and can have either two or three rhyming sounds, arranged in a variety of ways:

c d c d c d

c d d c d c

c d e c d e

c d e c e d

c d c e d c

The pattern of sestet rhymes is flexible. Strictly speaking  the one thing that is to be avoided in the sestet is ending with a couplet (dd or ee), as this was never permitted in Italy, and Petrarch himself never used a couplet ending. But in actual practice, sestets are sometimes ended with couplet.

The poem is divided into two sections by the two differing rhyme groups, and a change from one rhyme group to another signifies a change in subject matter. This change occurs at the beginning of L9 in the Italian sonnet and is called the volta, or “turn”; the turn is an essential element of the sonnet form, perhaps the essential element. It is at the volta that the second idea is introduced.

See Dante’s Sonnet Io mi senti’ svegliar dentro a lo core below.

Dante Aleghieri’s – Io mi senti’ svegliar dentro a lo core
Translation:  I Felt My Heart Awaken
 Io mi senti’ svegliar dentro a lo core
un spirito amoroso che dormia:
e poi vidi venir da lungi Amore
allegro sì, che appena il conoscia, dicendo:
“Or pensa pur di farmi onore”
;e ’n ciascuna parola sua ridia.
E poco stando meco il mio segnore,
guardando in quella parte onde venia,
io vidi monna Vanna e monna Bice
venire inver lo loco là ’v’io era,
l’una appresso de l’altra maraviglia;
 e sì come la mente mi ridice,
Amor mi disse: “Quell’è Primavera,
e quell’ha nome Amor, sì mi somiglia”.
[La Vita Nuova XXIV 7-9]
 I felt awoken in my heart
a loving spirit that was sleeping;
and then I saw Love coming from far away
so glad, I could just recognize. saying
“you think you can honor me”,
and with each word laughing.
And little being with me my lord,
watching the way it came from,
I saw lady Joan and lady Bice
coming towards the spot I was at,
one wonder past another wonder.
And as my mind keeps telling me,
Love said to me “She is Spring who springs first,
and that bears the name Love, who resembles me.”
[La Vita Nuova XXIV 7-9]

The English (or Shakespearian) Sonnet: The English sonnet has the simplest and most flexible pattern of all sonnets, consisting of 3 quatrains of alternating rhyme and a couplet:

a b a b

c d c d

e f e f

g g

As in the Spenserian, each quatrain develops a specific idea, but one closely related to the ideas in the other quatrains.

Not only is the English sonnet the easiest in terms of its rhyme scheme, calling for only pairs of rhyming words rather than groups of 4, but it is the most flexible in terms of the placement of the volta. Shakespeare often places the “turn,” as in the Italian, at L9: See Shakespear’s VII Sonnet


Lo! in the orient when the gracious light

Lifts up his burning head, each under eye

Doth homage to his new-appearing sight,

Serving with looks his sacred majesty;

And having climbed the steep-up heavenly hill,

Resembling strong youth in his middle age,

Yet mortal looks adore his beauty still,

Attending on his golden pilgrimage:

But when from highmost pitch, with weary car,

Like feeble age, he reeleth from the day,

The eyes, ‘fore duteous, now converted are

From his low tract, and look another way:

So thou, thyself outgoing in thy noon

Unlooked on diest unless thou get a son.

I think that’s enough of classroom poetry for this month. There was one sonnet submitted for the Poetry exhibition this month. Please read and voice your opinion for the furthering of Kenyan poetic excellence.

Fear of Man
Written by Joe Mambo
The good acts of men,
Are inspired by fear of evil,
The product of inaction.
Fear is the active motivator,
As man labors to eat,
Fights not to be defeated,
Loves not to be lonely,
Embraces religion
To give his life a feel of worth
Promotes justice
Not to be a causality of it’s absence,
And celebrates the fast fading present.
But the catalyst of inaction also,
Is the fear of the uncertain result.

This poem is part of the May 2th  2011 [Sonnet] Poetry Competition. You have until May 27th 2011 to read and vote for it. Please comment and indicate your opinion of the poem on a scale of 1 to 5.


2 – POOR

3 – OK

4 – GOOD



Next month’s the Genre and Subject of Verse will be Open. Please send in your poetry to Make sure you clearly mark in the subject line: Verse for the Blog. All other submissions that arrive without this subject line will be archived for a later exhibition. Your deadline is Sunday, May 29th, at 4pm.




This entry was posted on May 2, 2011 by in Writer's Blog.
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