An ottava rima is a type of poem which is composed of 8 eleven-syllable lines, with an a-b-a-b-a-b-c-c rhyme scheme. It was developed in the late thirteenth century and early fourteenth century for drama and religious songs by Tuscan poets.
Dating back to the early 13th century, ottava rima poems have been adopted by some of the most renowned poets from Yeats to Spenser. The form appeared in Portugal and Spain in the sixteenth century. During its use in England in 1600, ottava rima lines were shortened to ten syllables in the translation of Torquato Tasso by Edward Fairfax.
Ottava rima was introduced as a standard form for narrative and epic verse in Italy by Boccaccio in his two epics of romance namely; Teseida (1341) and Il filostrato (1338). In English, ottava rima verses were used in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries but attained its maximum effectiveness in Byron’s work. His Don Juan (1819–25) and Beppo (1818) combined elements of mock-heroic irony, seriousness, and comedy.
The ottava rima stanza in English consists of eight iambic lines, usually iambic pentameters. Each stanza consists of three rhymes following the rhyme scheme a-b-a-b-a-b-c-c. The form is similar to the older Sicilian octave, but evolved separately and is unrelated. The Sicilian octave is derived from the medieval strambotto and was a crucial step in the development of the sonnet, whereas the ottava rima is related to the canzone, a stanza form.
From Frere's Whistlecraft:
- But chiefly, when the shadowy moon had shed
- O'er woods and waters her mysterious hue,
- Their passive hearts and vacant fancies fed
- With thoughts and aspirations strange and new,
- Till their brute souls with inward working bred
- Dark hints that in the depths of instinct grew
- Subjection not from Locke's associations,
- Nor David Hartley's doctrine of vibrations.
From Byron's Don Juan:
- "Go, little book, from this my solitude!
- I cast thee on the waters – go thy ways!
- And if, as I believe, thy vein be good,
- The world will find thee after many days."
- When Southey 's read, and Wordsworth understood,
- I can't help putting in my claim to praise –
- The four first rhymes are Southey's every line:
- For God's sake, reader! take them not for mine.