Terza Rima Sonnets: Definition and Examples

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      The literal translation of terza rima from Italian is ‘third rhyme’. Terza rima is a rhyming verse stanza form that consists of an interlocking three-line rhyme scheme as ABA, BCB, CDC, DED.

      Terza Rima was first used by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri in his Divina Commedia, which he had composed in the influence of the sirventes, a lyrical form practiced by Provencal troubadours — the male poets and
singers who traveled around the southern French and northern Italy between the 11th and 13th centuries entertaining the rich people. Italian poets Petrarch and Boccaccio had been using this type of sonnet especially in the influence of Dante. In English literature, it is Geoffrey Chaucer to use this form for the first time in his A Complaint to His Lady. Geoffrey Chaucer and Thomas Wyatt brought terza rima into English poetry in the 14th century. Romantic poets including Byron and Shelley used it in the 19th century, and a number of modern poets from Robert Frost to Sylvia Plath to William Carlos Williams to Adrienne Rich have written terza rima in English especially because English does not offer plenty of rhyming possibilities as Italian does. The English poets of different ages to practice terza rime sonnet are like Thomas Wyatt (1503-42) in his Second Satire, Nicholas Breton (1545-1626) in his Country Song, Byron (1788-1824) in Prophecy of Dante, P. B. Shelley (1792-1822) in Triumph of Life and Ode. to the West Wind, Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809-92) in his The Eagle and Two voices, Robert Frost (1874-1963) in his Acquainted with the Night, Harvey Stanbrough (1954-) in his Reduces Circumstances, Susan Mitchell (1944-) in Dragonfly, etc. Thomas Hardy had also touched the form of meter in Friends Beyond to interlink the characters and continue the flow of the poem. A number of 20th century poets also employed the form, such as W. H. Auden, Andrew Cannon, T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Elizabeth Jennings, Philip Larkin, Archibald MacLeish, James Merrill, Jacqueline Osherow, Gjertrud Schnackenberg, Clark Ashton Smith, Derek Walcott, Richard Wilbur and William Carlos Williams. Edward Lowbury’s adaptation of the form to six syllables lines has been named piccola terza rima.

      There is no limit to the number of lines, but poems or sections of poems written in terza rima end with either a single line or couplet repeating the rhyme of the middle line of the final tercet. The two possible endings for the example above are DED, E or DED EE. There is no set rhythm for terza rima, but in English, iambic pentameter is generally preferred. For example, we can refer to Shelley's Ode to the West Wind in the second form, i.e. repetition of the rhyme of the middle line of the final tercet:

      However, a terza rima poem can center anything that the poet desires to pen. But usually, it generally tells a story - small or big. Of course, it focuses the special or memorable incidents in the poet's life. Since there are only three lines in each stanza and each group of lines tells a small part of the bigger story; and it does not have any upper limitation of length it can continue for up to the point the intended episode is complete.

      The concept Curtal Sonnet has good orthographic resemblance to the English word ‘curtail’ meaning ‘to stop something before it is finished normally’, or ‘to reduce or limit something’. The curtal sonnet is a curtailed or contracted form of sonnet invented by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89), and used in three of his poems. Curial is now an obsolete word meaning ‘shortened’. It is written in eleven-line or more accurately 10 1/2 lines. It is an abbreviated sonnet in eleven lines that are arranged in two stanzas. The first has rhyme scheme ABCABC, and the second is either DBCDC OR DCBDC. The very last line is indented and shorter. It is, depending on what expert describes the curtal sonnet, either described as a half-line or a single spondee. Hopkins described it as the former, but usually executed it as the latter. It should have a pivot between the sestet and quintet.

      The octave of a sonnet becomes a sestet and the sestet a quatrain plus an additional ‘tail piece’. That is, the first eight lines of a sonnet are translated into the first six lines of a curtal sonnet and the last six lines of a sonnet are translated into the last four and a half lines of a curtal sonnet. Hopkins describes the last line as half a line, though in fact it can be shorter than half of one of Hopkins’s standard sprung rhythm lines. In the preface to his Poems (1876-89), Hopkins describes the relationship between the Petrarchan and curtal sonnets mathematically. If the Petrarchan sonnet can be described by the equation 8+6=14 then, he says, the curtal sonnet would be 6+4 1/2. The term was used by Hopkins to describe the form that he used in such poems as Pied Beauty, Ash Boughs and Peace.

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