Poetry Guide: Octave
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.
Two other octave forms with Italian origins: