Saturday, June 17, 2017

Prompt # 282 –The Canzone

The canzone is a form of poetry that we don’t hear a lot about. “Canzone” derives from cantio, which means song in Italian. This form of poetry is a medieval Italian prototype of the sonnet. Rooted in the Provençal song or ballad, it was more fully developed and practiced in Italy and was popularized through the writings of Petrarch and Dante. 

Canzones are lyric poems that don’t have the same, conventional rhyme scheme as sonnets. For the most part, they are written in various stanzaic arrangements and usually conclude with an envoy (a short stanza at the end of the poem that brings the poem to closure, often with an address to a real or imagined person or as a comment on the preceding parts of the poem).

In structure, sonnets are typically set in a pattern of fourteen lines; however, canzones may contain from seven to twenty lines. Canzones may also contain anywhere from one to seven stanzas and may include a range of rhyme schemes. (Any rhyme scheme may be used, but for starters, rhymed couplets are suggested.) Additionally, each line in a canzone contains ten or eleven syllables, but this can also vary. Greater flexibility in structure makes canzones easier to write than sonnets.

This week, let’s try writing our own versions of canzones.


1. Begin by reading Dante Alighieri’s “Canzone 1,” in which he creates a fourteen-line poem with ten syllable lines. The language is archaic, but reading the poem and counting out the syllabic pattern may be helpful in giving you an idea of how you might structure your own poem.

    Ladies that have intelligence in love,
    Of my own lady I will speak with you;
    Not that I hope to count her praises through,
    But telling what I may, to ease my mind.
    And I declare that when I speak thereof
    Love sheds such perfect sweetness over me
    That if my courage failed not, certainly
    To him my listeners must be all resigned.
    Wherefore I will not speak in such large kind
    That mine own speech should foil me, which were base;
    But only will discourse of her high grace
    In these poor words, the best that I can find,
    With you alone, dear dames and damozels:
    'Twere ill to speak thereof with any else.

Dante’s rhyme scheme (abbcdeeccffcgg) is intricate, but because there’s no fixed rhyme pattern for this form of poetry, you can feel free to invent your own or to leave out rhyme entirely.

2. My suggestion is that you plan on a fourteen-line poem that ends with two lines (envoy) designed to bring the poem to closure. Work toward ten syllables in each line. 

3. In keeping with lyricism, try to create a sense of music in your poem and be sure to choose a topic that will lend itself to poetic musicality. Some topics that may work for you include: nature, seasonal subjects, a particular place or geography, love and other relationships, and people you know or admire.

4. For this prompt (a fourteen-line poem with ten syllables in each line) think in terms of the following (and, if you decide to write more than one stanza, follow the pattern for each). Remember that this is a simplification of the form and only a suggestion.

Define your subject and how you will "converse" with your readers. 
(Lines 1 & 2)

Present the central theme, question, or conflict. 
(Lines 3 & 4)

Incorporate your mood, feeling, and tone. 
(Lines 5 & 6)

Provide details on your subject. 
(Lines 7 - 12) 

Close with a couplet that brings the poem (or stanza) to closure. 
(Lines 13 & 14)

Note: If you write more than one stanza, this should leave an opening for further expansion.  

5. If you elect not to rhyme, you might want to think about rhyming just at the end by concluding with an envoy that’s a rhymed couplet (two lines of poetry in which the last words in each line rhyme).

6. Of course, if you find these suggestions in any way inhibiting, let your own creativity and your own poem guide you.


1. Because a lot of this form may be left to the poet’s discretion, be sure to remember that it is essentially a form of lyric poetry and work with that in mind (avoid narrative poetry for this).

2.  Create a sense of music in your poem through alliteration, assonance, consonance, anaphora, end rhyme or internal rhyme, meter, modulation, rhythm, and resonance.

3. Try iambic verse—an iamb is a metrical foot consisting of one short (or unstressed) syllable followed by one long (or stressed) syllable. Note: u/ (unstressed/stressed syllables) sounding like ta-DAH.

4. Observe all the usual caveats for writing good poetry (create strong images, avoid the passive voice, watch out for articles and prepositional phrases that your poem can live without, and be careful of too many adjectives and details).


  1. Coincidentally, the canzone is my June prompt at Like minds...

    1. Thanks for letting us know, Ken!

      Readers, please be sure to visit Kenneth Ronkowitz's excellent blog "Poets Online" for another way to approach canzone writing. Click on "Current Writing Prompt" at the top.

  2. So interesting. This form is new to me. I really like the way you offer an adaptation that's easy work with.

    1. Thanks, Jamie! So glad you find the "formula" helpful!

  3. Really interesting and a challenge to work with. Something to do during the long hot days of summer!

  4. When I first read your title, I read quickly, saw "Calzone," and thought to myself, "Hmmm, interesting idea for a food poem." I may just try to write a canzone about calzones!

    1. Thanks for your comment, John, which made me laugh! It's funny, but I actually miss-typed "canzone"as "calzone" a couple of times when I wrote the prompt. Hope your calzone canzone is delicious!