is a verse form consisting of eight lines of iambic pentameter
Iambic pentameter is a commonly used metrical line in traditional verse and verse drama. The term describes the particular rhythm that the words establish in that line. That rhythm is measured in small groups of syllables; these small groups of syllables are called "feet"...
(in English) or of hendecasyllable
The hendecasyllable is a line of eleven syllables, used in Ancient Greek and Latin quantitative verse as well as in medieval and modern European poetry.-In quantitative verse:...
s (in Italian). The most common rhyme scheme
A rhyme scheme is the pattern of rhyme between lines of a poem or song. It is usually referred to by using letters to indicate which lines rhyme. In other words, it is the pattern of end rhymes or lines...
for an octave is abba abba
An octave is the first part of a Petrarchan sonnet, which ends with a contrasting sestet
A sestet is the name given to the second division of an Italian sonnet , which must consist of an octave, of eight lines, succeeded by a sestet, of six lines. The first documented user of this poetical form was the Italian poet, Petrarch. In the usual course the rhymes are arranged abc abc, but...
. In traditional Italian sonnets the octave always ends with a conclusion of one idea, giving way to another idea in the sestet. Some English sonnets break that rule, often to striking effect. In Milton's Sonnet 19, the sestet begins early, halfway through the last line of the octave:
- 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."
Patience's too-quick reply intrudes upon the integrity of the octave. Since "prevent" also means "anticipate," it is as if Patience is giving the answer before the question is finished.
Octaves are also used in the Petrarchan lover.