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How to Write a Canto Poem


A canto is a division of narrative poem, usually epic in nature, that is traditionally lyrical. It has roots in Italian and originally was used as a section of poetry meant to be sung. One of the most famous examples of canto poetry is Dante Alighieri's "Divine Comedy" written in the fourteenth century, but the technique has been used by modern writers, including Ezra Pound's "The Cantos." This article describes the information and structure necessary to create your own canto poetry.

Devise a plot. Unlike short poems, a canto poem is long form and contains a story. At this point, a canto poem is just like a standard book. A story must first be developed before pen can be put to page.

Determine the number of syllables per line and the number of lines per verse or section. The number of syllables per line should be determined based on the meter you choose for your story. The meter, or rhythm, is the bread and butter of poetry writing and decides what syllables will be stressed and unstressed.

Decide on a meter. The duple meters are iamb (unstressed and stressed), trochee (stressed and unstressed) and spondee (stressed and stressed). The triple meters are dactyl (stressed, unstressed and unstressed), anapest (unstressed, unstressed and stressed), and amphibrach (unstressed, stressed and unstressed).

Develop a rhyme scheme. There are many types of rhyming schemes, but they can be summed up by using letters to represent the rhyming lines. Rhyming schemes run the gambit from simple to complex. The best way to choose a rhyming scheme is to look at some popular poetry and discern the rhyming scheme. When you find one you like, use it for your poem.

Choose the number of lines per verse. You must make sure the number of lines you choose meshes with your rhyming scheme. An example of a verse from Dante's "Divine Comedy" is below. "Who, even with untrammeled words and many/ attempts at telling, ever could recount/ in full the blood and wounds that I now saw?"

Write your canto. The cantos are self-contained with a beginning, middle and end. The initial canto is generally an introduction to the overall story. While each canto per cantica is related, a reader should be able to pick a random canto and still have it be a self-contained story. While there is a considerable structure to an epic poem, a line does not have to be a complete thought. It must only follow your rhyme and meter.

Tip
  • Don't be scared. While a canto poem is generally epic in nature, feel free to practice by writing single cantos until you are comfortable with the style. Keep track of your style. After a hundred cantos, the pages can begin to blur together and you may lose track of your rhyming scheme and meter. Periodically, go back and double-check and don't cheat. Remember where it came from. A canto was originally lyrical and meant to be sung, so keep that in mind when you are writing.