How to Pushkin Sonnet

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on
First alternate thus, a B a B,
A poly and a mono rhyme.
The extra syllable is maybe
Annoying, but it comes with time.
The next quatrain is much more sticky:
Two poly rhymes, which I find tricky
To line up neatly in a row.
Two mono lines, you’re good to go.
The next six lines may form two tercets:
First e F F then e G G.
Or one quatrain, e F F e,
Plus couplet. In this style of verse, it’s
Entirely up to you. Just one
Last mono couplet, and you’re done.
-- by Jessica Lévai

Having published a story written in Pushkin sonnets, I’m frequently asked, “What’s a Pushkin sonnet?” Alexander Pushkin created this particular form for his verse novel Eugene Onegin. Like a Shakespearean sonnet it’s fourteen lines long, but the lines are shorter, eight or nine syllables each to Shakespeare’s ten. The part I find takes the most getting used to are the lines ending in polysyllabic rhymes (sometimes called “feminine rhymes” but no thanks), which keep the thing from being straight iambs.

While I was working on editing my novella, I decided to write an explainer of the verse form in the verse form, and the result is above. That it took me almost no time at all tells you what magic happens when you live with a form for almost three years.

For more examples of this type of sonnet, see Eugene Onegin itself (James Falen’s English translation is my favorite) and, of course, The Night Library of Sternendach: A Vampire Opera in Verse. Because all verse is better with vampires.

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