Medieval Verse: The Octave

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April 4, 2014 by phicks2012

ctree2According to Wikipedia at

An octave is a verse form consisting of eight lines of iambic pentameter (in English) or of hendecasyllables (in Italian). The most common rhyme scheme for an octave is abba abba.

An octave is the first part of a Petrarchan sonnet, which ends with a contrasting sestet. 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.

Two other octave forms with Italian origins:
ottava rima
Sicilian octave

This verse was composed as my first attempt at the Octave form, to be published in our monthly SCA newsletter, and (being a simple form) I’ll admit it was very quickly done. I took a stab at the other variations later on, but for the first attempt I went with simplicity, with a simple rhyme scheme of ABBAABBA, and I hope you enjoy my efforts.


Octave No.1: The Consort

Upon the verge she stands in beauty rare
With eager heart and silken banner hung,
All knowing that the gauntlet will be flung
Proclaiming that she is, indeed, most fair.
Before his worthy Lady waiting there,
Her Lord stands forth, the Herald giving tongue,
Assuring that his praises will be sung
Ere he may take the field, and honor dare.

His stride is sure; his sword is shining raised;
His shield emblazoned and his armor bright,
And she looks on with pride and with delight
As others marvel at his skill, amazed.
His rival feels the blow, and topples, dazed
Before him, fallen to his steely might,
And voices echo to affirm his right
To fight again and earn their willing praise.

Her heart is full, as he cruel fate defies.
As each foe falls it swells with glowing pride,
And thunders with each victory ratified,
Until tis surely grown to twice its size.
And when at last the final foe’s demise
Is there proclaimed, she will be satisfied.
For when the Kingdom’s Heir is glorified
Beside him in her glory she will rise.
[30 December, 2013]


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