Sicilian Octave Poem Type (Simply Explained & Examples)

by poems4ever

Here’s what the Sicilian Octave poem type is:
The Sicilian Octave is an Italian offshoot of the older strambotto.
It consists of eight lines with an alternating rhyme scheme (ABABABAB), traditionally with hendecasyllabic verse.
English adaptations of the form commonly use iambic pentameter instead.
The form’s popularity has waned since its introduction.
If you want to learn all about Sicilian Octave poems, then you’ve come to the right place.
Let’s get right to it!

What Is the Sicilian Octave?
redhead woman sitting on the window sill writing in her notebook
The Sicilian Octave is an old, influential Italian verse form often credited as being a precursor to the equally important Petrarchan sonnet.
It consists of eight lines written with a specific rhyme scheme, originally in hendecasyllabic lines (lines with eleven syllables).
Unlike other forms, the Sicilian Octave is not necessarily a poem on its own and can act as a stanza unit used in other poems.
A poem may be written entirely in Sicilian Octaves or it might use the octave in combination with other verses.
Despite the form’s impact on western poetry, it hasn’t seen much use in Italian past the 15th century.
This form is a descendant of the strambotto, alongside Ottava Rima and the aforementioned Petrarchan sonnet.
What Are the Basic Properties of the Sicilian Octave?
smiling redhead girl working on her laptop in cherry blossom tree garden
Rhyme StructureStrictMeterEither syllabic (traditional) or iambic pentameterOriginItalyPopularityInfluential, but less popular than sibling formsThemeVaries
How Is the Sicilian Octave Structured?
cute redhead reading a book and writing outdoors in park under big tree on grass.
In its traditional form, the Sicilian Octave was eight lines with eleven syllables per line, featuring a simple ABABABAB rhyme scheme.
This rhyme scheme has seen plenty of variations over time, as is typical of old and popular forms.
These variations have largely been regional, such as the Tuscan ABABCCDD.
The first octave of the Petrarchan sonnet, with its rhyme scheme of ABBAABBA, is generally agreed upon to be related to the Sicilian Octave.
Practitioners of sonnets may remember that we usually use iambic pentameter when writing sonnets in English.
Similarly, the Sicilian Octave is often adapted in iambic pentameter instead of its original syllabic form.
The Sicilian Octave is a rare example of a poem that was popular for a time, is simple in structure, and greatly influenced modern poetry, but somehow did not retain its popularity.
Poems that have easy-to-understand structures tend to stick around, but the Sicilian Octave ended up being one of the less explored branches of its family of poems in the grand scheme of things.
The only apparent reasoning for this is that the form may have actually been too easy to attract famous scholars and poets of the Post-Renaissance period who prioritized forms that could better show off the full scope of their abilities.
What Is an Example of a Sicilian Octave?
relaxed redhead woman reading a book on wooden pontoon.
Despite its age, this form is grand as ever,
as easy to work with as a poem can be.
Centuries later, it’s still rather clever.
Its appeal, as a form, is easy to see.
The ties to history cannot be severed,
nor is it any less impressive to me.
All this time later and still it does never
feel dated, no more than modern poetry.
The above example sticks to the old hendecasyllabic lines, though iambic pentameter is always an option when writing the form in English.
As the poem itself points out, traditional Sicilian Octaves are quite easy to work with.
It’s a wonder that they didn’t stay popular, given their accessibility.
The only real qualifiers for the form are syllable count (or meter if using it) and the simple rhyme scheme.
As such, it’s an easy form to recognize and use even among amateur poets who are just starting to learn the craft.
What Are Tips for Writing Sicilian Octaves?
a notepad, flower, pen on wooden table
One initial decision you’ll need to make is whether you’ll go with the syllabic verse of the original form, or the metric verse commonly used in English poems.
English meters do add pleasant musical qualities, by their very nature, but there’s an added level of difficulty that you would need to get accustomed to.
Whichever you go with, you’ll generally find that the length is incredibly comfortable to work with.
Lines of ten and eleven syllables are fairly spacious, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble setting up the next-end sound.
If there is any complication, then it comes from the form’s insistence on using just two end sounds.
English as a language has a variety of words that don’t work as well with rhyme, so needing to reuse an end sound four times can be daunting if you choose your words poorly.
To avoid this outcome, keep an eye on how you end the first two lines of the octave.
If it looks like you’re going to end on a syllable that’s uncomfortable to work with, don’t be afraid to rewrite the line accordingly.
Ideally, you want to end on words with common suffixes or short words that emphasize vowel sounds, such as “sky” and “tree.”
If you write a poem that consists of more than one verse, feel free to switch over to a new set of end sounds with each new verse.
English-speaking poets and readers will generally understand that it’s unreasonable to expect only two end sounds in a poem with multiple verses, but if you’re up for the added challenge, then go for it.
Lastly, perhaps most importantly, I encourage you to experiment with this.
The Sicilian Octave is one of the simplest rhyming forms out there, and it’s a great starting point for developing your poem form.
Maybe someone will write articles like this one about your unique take on the form at some point in the future.
Who knows?
Poet’s Note
While this doesn’t apply to everyone, I feel like I should point out that many modern readers are bored with iambic pentameter, so it may be less and less appealing as an option in the future.
It’s not the meter’s fault, of course.
When public schools shove Shakespeare down your throat every year for a decade, it’s only natural that some students would grow weary of everything that even vaguely resembles his writing.
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Sicilian Octave Poem Type (Simply Explained & Examples)  
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