What is an Octave?

By Shane Watson
In Poetry
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Octave Definition, Form, Poem Examples

Definition of Octave

Octave in poetry can be defined as,

“An octave is a verse form consisting of eight lines of iambic pentameter (in English poetry) or  hendecasyllables (in case of Italian poetry)”.

or

“Any stanza in a poem, formed of eight lines, and can follow any meter (rhymed or un-rhymed) and could be of any line length”

Commonly the rhyme scheme for an octave is abba abba.

History and Origin

Octave is derived from Middle English, Latin octāva eighth part, noun use of feminine of octāvus.

Forms of Octave

  • Ottava Rima
  • Sicilian Octave
  • Canzonetta
  • Cavatina
  • Huitain
  • Hymnal Octave or Common Octave
  • Italian Octave
  • Octave
  • Strambotto Toscano
  • Strambotto Siciliano
  • Strambotto Romagnuolo
  • Un-wreathed Octave
  • Wreathed Octave

Octave Poem Examples

Milton’s sonnet 19 is a famous example of Octave poetry form.

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

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