Here’s what the Stornello poetry form is:
The stornello is an Italian verse form dating back to at least the 15th century.
The most common modern interpretations list it as a tercet form in which all three lines rhyme, with hendecasyllabic lines.
There are other interpretations of the form from older time periods, including a couplet form still seen in Sicily today.
So if you want to learn all about the Stornello poetry type, then you’ve come to the right place.
Let’s jump right in!
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Forms of Poetry: Stornello
The stornello is an Italian verse form that is usually based entirely on rhymed tercets (three-line stanzas).
This form can be traced back to 15th century Italy, when it was predominantly used in improv contests between poets.
While we have a very specific image in mind when we talk about the modern stornello, the form has actually gone through a few phases and as such has at least three distinct variants.
It doesn’t come up often in modern day discussions of form but was especially popular among Tuscan peasants in the 17th century.
Basic Properties of the Stornello
|Usually hendecasyllabic verse
|Still common in Italy; less common elsewhere
How Is a Stornello Structured?
The oldest variant of the stornello was a simple rhymed couplet, which is still used in Sicily to this day.
This was the form born directly from the old improv contests mentioned earlier.
It’s generally not the one we think of when we refer to the form overall, though.
One of the more common variants is a rhymed hendecasyllabic triplet in which the middle line can be slant rhyme instead of true rhyme.
Some sources argue that the middle line should be a slant rhyme, while others say that it’s optional.
A number of modern sources don’t even mention the distinction between true and slant rhyme.
If the tercet is not isosyllabic, then it will usually fall under the third category.
This stornello opens with a ten-syllable line, usually a declaration of some kind, but falls back into the hendecasyllabic lines that we expect afterward.
Italian verse often uses hendecasyllabic lines, since the language lends itself well to falling rhythm, but English adaptations of Italian forms frequently use iambic pentameter instead, so feel free to go with whichever one feels most appropriate to you.
It should be noted that these descriptions are significantly more detailed than the most common definition and take historical forms into account.
In practice, you’ll find that many guides simply refer to a stornello as a “three-line poem with eleven syllables per line and an AAA rhyme scheme.”
So if you want to go with the quick and dirty version, that’s the form readers are most likely to recognize.
As for whether a stornello should be written by one poet or by multiple poets bouncing lines back and forth, to imitate the oldest traditions, I’ll leave that up to your own discretion.
Note that a poem written in stornello could be one or several tercets, but it will usually be on the short side.
Example of a Stornello
Tomorrow will be much shorter than today
if, indeed, I can finally have my say,
for I’d gladly throw some idle hours away.
It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed the daylight,
but when the sun does shine so brazenly bright,
I cannot rest as easy then as at night.
The above poem, written with two stornellos, utilizes the simplest definition.
You can tell immediately because it doesn’t feature slant rhyme nor any ten-syllable lines.
While this modern definition may not scratch the itch for purists, you won’t find too many dedicated fans of the stornello outside of Italy in the first place.
Comparing the stornello to the haiku, another three-line poem form, gives us an interesting snapshot of the difference between western and eastern poetry.
Western poems, like the stornello, tend to be more focused on how entertaining they are and how they sound out loud, while eastern poems tend to be more focused on imagery and reflection.
Tips for Writing a Stornello
Stornello is ultimately one of the easiest forms to write, and not just because of its brevity.
Since the form only asks you to keep track of syllables and end sounds, there’s little to get in the way of the actual writing process.
That said, you do need to be aware of the rhyme scheme.
Triple rhymes aren’t necessarily difficult in English, but they do require you to consider them before starting the poem.
Common suffixes can make this easier if you’re having trouble, but ultimately working with rhyme just comes down to practice.
It’s best to choose a topic that you can cover sufficiently within a small space.
A stornello is no place to write an ambitious narrative about the horrors of war or the political intrigue of an Imperial palace.
There’s not enough room for something like that.
Instead, think of the stornello as an extended version of a single thought or moment.
The use of rhyme on every line serves to emphasize a certain uniformity within the poem, so instead of trying to make some sort of progress in a storyline, you might as well lean into the existing structure by having the lines echo each other’s sentiments.
In any case, the stornello is a form that’s perfect for fledgling writers, even at the student level, since you only have to maintain your focus for 33 syllables at a time.
This is a poem form that’s easy to get rather good at with just a little bit of practice and can be great for getting a child’s feet wet when teaching poetry at a young age.
Do keep in mind that adaptations using iambic pentameter instead of syllabic verse have a naturally higher difficulty level.
Even veteran poets often have to make subjective judgment calls on whether a syllable is stressed or unstressed.
But one advantage of the stornello is that the poem can be completed quickly, so it can still be a good place to start learning meter and rhyme compared to the more complex forms.
Before writing this article, I only knew about the most common modern interpretation of the form.
I was surprised to learn that stornello was originally a collaborative form, and even more surprised to learn that there are stornello couplets.
Turns out even the simplest forms have variants worth talking about.
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