49 Lesson 14: Form in Poetry

Patterns in Poetry

Some poems come in specific patterns–a specific form, such as sonnets, villanelles, and concrete poems. These forms have specific rules that the poet must follow.


The sonnet is written in iambic pentameter. What’s that? It’s a specific rhythm. Each line has ten syllables with five pairs of iambs. Iambs are an unstressed syllable paired with a stressed syllable, so it will have the beat like this:

daDA / daDA / daDA / daDA / daDA

The Shakespearean sonnet has fourteen lines with a specific rhyme pattern. Each pair of words that rhymes alternate a line for the first 12 lines. For example, Line 1 and Line 3 end in a rhyme, and Line 2 and Line 4 end in a rhyme.  The last two lines have their own rhyme. The rhyme scheme looks like this:


Read William Shakespeare’s sonnet “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer Day?” Look at the specific traits of the form: the iambic pentameter rhythm and the rhyme scheme.

Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer Day
Author: William Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimm’d:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Other types of sonnets include the Petrarchan, a fourteen-line sonnet with the rhyme scheme of abba, abba, cde, cde.

Blank Verse

Blank verse is a poem that does not rhyme, but it has five stressed beats per line.


The villanelle contains five stanzas with three lines each, which is called tercets. The sixth stanza has four lines, which is called a quatrain. The total number of lines needed for a villanelle is 19 lines.

The villanelle also has two repeating lines. The first line in the first stanza repeats in the sixth, twelfth, and eighteenth lines. The third line in the first stanza repeats in the ninth, fifteenth, and nineteenth lines.

The villanelle follows this rhyme scheme: aba, aba, aba, aba, aba, abaa.

Check out this form in Dylan Thomas’ poem “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.”

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night
Author: Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Refrain 1 (A1)
Line 2 (b)
Refrain 2 (A2)
Line 4 (a)
Line 5 (b)
Refrain 1 (A1)
Line 7 (a)
Line 8 (b)
Refrain 2 (A2)
Line 10 (a)
Line 11 (b)
Refrain 1 (A1)
Line 13 (a)
Line 14 (b)
Refrain 2 (A2)
Line 16 (a)
Line 17 (b)
Refrain 1 (A1)
Refrain 2 (A2)

Concrete Poetry

Concrete poetry, also called visual poetry, takes on the shape of the topic being written about. The lines and words are typed specifically to create a design and enhance the meaning. For example, read and study the format of George Herbert’s poem “Easter Wings.”

Easter Wings
Author: George Herbert

Free Verse

Free verse poetry has no form, meaning it has no stressed beats per line. This is the most common type of poetry that is written today.


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