Ottava rima

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Ottava rima - pronounced oTAHVer REEmer, IPA: /ə ˌtɑː va ˈriː ma/ - is a stanza form consisting of eight lines whose rhymes exemplify the pattern a-b-a-b-a-b-c-c.

This stanza form is of Italian origin - ottava rima literally means 'eighth rhyme' in Italian - and was originally used for epic poetry, i.e., long narrative poems about the memorable actions of a heroic figure. It was used, for example, by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) in his long poems Filostrato and Teseide, by Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533) in his romantic epic Orlando furioso, and by Torquato Tasso (1544-1595) in his romantic epic Gerusalemme liberata.

In English ottava rima was used by Lord Byron (1788-1824) for his mock epic Don Juan. But its use has certainly not been confined to epic poetry: for example, two of the best-known poems of W.B. Yeats (1865-1939) - Sailing to Byzantium and Among School Children - use ottava rima. Here, as an example of the form, is the first stanza of Sailing to Byzantium:


That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, or dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.