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Poetry Competitions UK
14 Jun 2011

How to Write an Ottava Rima

The ottava rima is a rhyming stanza that is of Italian origin. Originally, the ottava rima was used for long poems on heroic themes. It is thought that Giovanni Boccaccio works contain the earliest known use of the ottava rima form.

As the ottava rima is Italian in origin, it has been adapted for use in English. The ottava rima stanza in English has eight iambic lines (usually iambic pentameters). Each stanza consists of three alternate rhymes and one double rhyme, following the a-b-a-b-a-b-c-c pattern. The ottava rima is related to the canzone.

In English, ottava rima first appeared in Elizabethan translations of Tasso and Ariosto. A section of William Browne's 'Britannia's Pastorals' is the only known original work in the form that has survived - the ottava rima was not a popular poetic form, in England, at the time it was introduced. John Hookham Frere was the first English poet to write mock-heroic ottava rima. His poem 'Prospectus and Specimen of an Intended National Work' used the form. Byron read Frere's work and he then produced 'Beppo', his first poem to use the ottava rima. Shortly after this, Byron wrote both 'Don Juan' (1819-1824) and 'Vision of Judgment' (1822) using the form. Shelley translated the 'Homeric Hymns' into English in ottava rima. William Butler Yeats used the form, with half rhyme, in several of his best later poems, including 'Sailing to Byzantium' and 'Among School Children

From John Hookham Frere's 'Prospectus and Specimen of an Intended National Work' (written in 1817/8). Also referred to as 'The Monks and the Giants'.

But chiefly, when the shadowy moon had shed (a)
O'er woods and waters her mysterious hue, (b)
Their passive hearts and vacant fancies fed (a)
With thoughts and aspirations strange and new, (b)
Till their brute souls with inward working bred (a)
Dark hints that in the depths of instinct grew (b)
Subjection not from Locke's associations, (c)
Nor David Hartley's doctrine of vibrations. (c)

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