Definition of Octave

Octave has been derived from the Latin word octāva, which means “eighth part.” It is a verse form that contains eight lines, which usually appear in an iambic pentameter. In simple words, it can be any stanza in a poem that has eight lines and follows a rhymed or unrhymed meter.

Types of Octave

  1. Canzonetta
    Each stanza of this verse form follows rhyme scheme of a, b, a, b, c, d, c, D. or a, b, a, b, c, b, c, B. the last line may repeat any meter.
  2. Cavatina
    It appears in quatrains with uneven couplets and ends with a declamatory rhyming couplet. It follows alternating iambic pentameter and iambic dimeter lines. The rhyme scheme is: xaxa xbxb xcxc, where x is unrhymed.
  3. Ottava Rima
    This form of octave contains 8 lines, which usually appear in iambic pentameter pattern. Each stanza contains three alternate rhyming lines with one double rhyme. It follows rhyme scheme of a-b-a-b-a-b-c-c.
  4. Sicilian Octave
    This verse form contains eight lines with 11 syllables, called hendecasyllable in Italian. It follows the rhyme scheme of a-b-a-b-a-b-a-b.
  5. Italian or Petrarchan Octave
    Initially, it did not follow any set rhyming patter; however, later on it followed iambic pentameter with rhyme scheme of a-b-b-a-a-b-b-a.
  6. Hymnal and Common Octave
    It follows rhyming pattern a-b-c-b-a-b-c-b. The first one uses iambic tetrameter and the second one uses iambic trimeter.
  7. Octave
    Sometimes it is in the form of free or blank verse or unusual pattern. However, the most common rhyming pattern for this verse form is a-b-b-a-a-b-b-a.
  8. Huitain
    Huitain consists of 8 or 10 syllables with each line having rhyming pattern of a-b-a-b-b-c-b-c or a-b-a-b-a-c-a-c
  9. Sicilian Octave
    It does not have a set form, but commonly follows rhyming pattern of a-b-a-b-a-b-a-b.
  10. Strambotto Tuscano
    It follows rhyme scheme of a-b-a-b-a-b-c-c. Each line contains 11 syllables.
  11. Strambotto Siciliano
    It uses a rhyming pattern a-b-a-b-a-b-a-b. There are 11 syllables in each line.
  12. Strambotto Romagnuolo
    It uses rhyme scheme of a-b-a-b-c-c-d-d with 11 syllables in each line.
  13. Unwreathed Octave
    It also uses double rhymes with external rhyme as b-a-b-d-c-d-c and Internal rhyme a-b-a-c-d-c-x. There is no set meter.
  14. Wreathed Octave
    It also has double rhymes with external rhyme as a-b-a-b-c-d-c-d and internal rhyme follows the pattern of x-a-b-a-d-c-d-c.

Examples of Octave in Literature

Example #1: The New Colossus (By Emma Lazarus)

‘Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame…
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

This is an example of Petrarchan Octave, which follows the rhyme scheme of a-b-b-a-a-b-b-a. It is the first part of Petrarchan or Italian sonnet.

Example #2: Of the Gentle Heart (by Guido Guinicelli)

Within the gentle heart Love shelters him
As birds within the green shade of the grove.
Before the gentle heart, in nature’s scheme,
Love was not, nor the gentle heart ere Love…
And Love has his effect in gentleness.

This stanza presents an example of Canzonetta, a verse form that uses rhyming pattern of a, b, a, b, c, d, c, D.

Example #3: Filiocola (by Giovanni Boccaccio)

Qui, d’Atropos il colpo ricevuto,
giace di Roma Giulia Topazia,
dell’alto sangue di Cesare arguto
discesa, bella e piena d’ogni grazia…
Dio biasimar che fè sí gran fallazia.

Boccaccio has used this 8-line verse Sicilian Octave in his earlier poem Filiocola. This form follows rhyme scheme of a-b-a-b-a-b-a-b.

Example #4: Sonnet 16 (by John Milton)

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent…
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent…

This is an example of octave, which is the first part of Italian sonnet that ends with a contrasting sestet. It commonly uses a metrical pattern of iambic pentameter, 5 iambs in each line, which is shown as underlined in the second last line.

Function of Octave

An octave serves as a musical interval or plays the role of a short distance between two musical notes. In fact, it is a distance between two notes with similar letter names. In poetry, it represents eight lines of a poem, often the first part of a sonnet, where it poses questions, while the second part, sestet, answers them. To put it in simple words, an octave provides a dilemma or a problem in the first part, which, sestet, as the second part resolves.