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Octastich

An octastich is a stanza with eight lines. These lines might be written in free verse or conform to a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. 

The octastich is a popular poetic form in English-language poetry. Sometimes, these stanzas stand alone as eight-line poems and, in other instances, are only one part of a longer composition. For example, Frank O’Hara’s ‘Easter’ as described below. 

Octastich Definition and Examples


Octastich Definition

A stanza with eight lines is sometimes known as an octastich. It is also common to find stanzas of this length referred to as octaves and even octets. These stanzas are quite common in poetry and can be found in all periods, genres, and styles. Often, octastiches can be divided into two quatrains or sets of four lines. For example, following a rhyme scheme of ABABCDCD. 

Examples of Octastiches in Poetry 

Material by Ros Barber 

‘Material’ is a contemporary poem that is separated into several stanzas of different lengths. The first five stanzas are octastiches. The ones that follow contain either seven or eight lines. Throughout, the poet uses full rhymes and half-rhymes but does not use a specific rhyme scheme. Throughout this piece, the poet speaks about the past and tradition through the symbol of a handkerchief. Here are a few lines from the first eight-line stanza: 

My mother was a hanky queen

when hanky meant a thing of cloth,

(…)

when hankies were material

she’d have one, always, up her sleeve.

Discover more Ros Barber poems

Easter by Frank O’Hara

‘Easter’ is an excellent example of a poem that contains stanzas that greatly vary in length. For example, the longest stanza is thirty-nine lines and the shortest is eight. The poem presents a unique take on the contrasting elements of life and death. In the third stanza, which is an octastich, the poet does not use a rhyme scheme or conform the lines to any discernible pattern.

Explore more Frank O’Hara poems

Romance Sonámbulo by Federico García Lorca

Romance Sonámbulo’ is an incredibly popular poem. The poet composed it in the middle of the Spanish Civil War. Throughout, the poet alludes to the struggles of everyday families, his allegiance to the socialist government, elements of the Catholic Church, the Spanish army, and the various events that led to his arrest and execution. The poem was published in 1928 only eight years before his death. The fourth stanza is an octastich. When translated to English, reads: 

Now the two friends climb up, 

up to the high balconies.

Leaving a trail of blood.

[…]

A thousand crystal tambourines 

struck at the dawn light.

This translation was completed by William Bryant Logan.

Discover more Federico García Lorca poems

Tell the truth but tell it slant— by Emily Dickinson 

Tell the truth but tell it slant’ is a popular Dickinson poem that is composed of eight lines. These lines can be separated into two sets of four lines, known as quatrains. The first four lines read: 

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant —

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth’s superb surprise

Throughout this poem, the poet alternates in meter between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. This pattern continues into the final four lines, which complete the octastich. They read: 

As Lightning to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind —

Read more Emily Dickinson poems

FAQs 

Why do poets use octastiches? 

Poets use octastiches when they want to utilize a stanza that contains an even number of lines and can easily be divided into sections. For example, an eight-line stanza is easily divided into two sets of four (quatrains) or four sets of two lines (couplets). This allows for a variety of even-numbered rhyme schemes to play out. One of the most popular is ABABCDCD. 

What is a poem with eight lines?

A poem with eight lines is known as an octastich, octave, and sometimes an octet. These terms may also be applied to stanzas within a longer poem. For example, a five stanza poem that utilizes quatrains, quintains, and octastiches. 

What is the first part of a sonnet called?

The first part of a sonnet is sometimes known as an octave or an octet. This refers to the first eight lines of the sonnet. This section is also sometimes divided into two sets of four lines, known as quatrains. This division is most commonly seen in examples of Petrarchan or Italian sonnets.

What is the most popular poetic form? 

Throughout history, a wide variety of poetic forms have been utilized. For example, during the Elizabethan age, the sonnet form was incredibly popular. It can famously be seen in the works of William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson. Other forms that have gone through periods of popularity include the ballad, ode, and villanelle


Related Literary Terms 

  • Hymn Stanza: uses a rhyme scheme of ABCB and alternates between iambic trimeter and iambic tetrameter.
  • Octave: comes from the Latin word meaning “eighth part.” It is an eight-line stanza or poem.
  • Onegin Stanza: a stanza form invented and popularized by Alexander Pushkin in his 1825-1832 novel, Eugene Onegin. 
  • Ottava Rima: used to describe a particular type of stanza in poetry. It uses eight iambic lines and follows a rhyme scheme of ABABABCC.
  • Chaucerian Stanza: also known as rhyme royal, is a stanza form introduced by English poet Geoffrey Chaucer. It’s seven lines long and uses the rhyme scheme ABABBCC.
  • Septet: any seven-line stanza in poetry. These stanzas are uncommon and sometimes associated with the work of Geoffrey Chaucer, who pioneered a pattern and structure known as rhyme royal. 
  • Sestet: a six-line stanza or poem, or the second half or a sonnet. It does not require a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern.


Other Resources 

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