Dr Michael J Sullivan publishes on the transnational drift of verse forms

Date Published: 06.11.2023

Two centuries after its first composition, Byron’s most celebrated verse form remains the Italianate stanza used in his epic though incomplete magnum opus, Don Juan: the at-turns tragic and comedic, seventeen-canto fragment that he was still completing before his death in the Greek war of independence. Termed ottava rima, this regularised and Italianate stanza resembles in all but length the sesta rima verse form of Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis and an array of works in Italian verse of the long eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In ‘Sesta Rima as a Mode of Imitation: Hybrid Forms in Anglo-Italian Verse’, Michael J Sullivan, our Lecturer in English, connects these histories, opening up the rhyme routes between works that have acted as intertwined bridges in the development of Anglo-Italianate verse.

By examining the transnational drift of forms, Dr Sullivan’s article finds in the Italianate form of sesta rima an additional strand of influence on English ottava rima in the nineteenth century. It explores the verse history that has led to six-line stanzas becoming a formal training ground for octave rhymes, and conducts the first sustained examination of Byron’s engagement with the Italianate sestain. Drawing together Byron’s Italian reading, his manuscript experiments, and extensive research into his early rhyming patterns, the article opens up a cluster of poems between 1813 and 1816 which reveal how his movements towards ottava rima predate his arrival in Italy and intertwine with the history of sesta rima. Engaging with the genesis and uses of these stanzas from Shakespeare and Hemans to Yeats and Roethke, the article forms a wider case study in experimental stanza switching and hybrid forms in Romantic and post-Romantic verse.

Read the full article advance open access in the OUP journal The Review of English StudiesSesta Rima as a Mode of Imitation: Hybrid Forms in Anglo-Italian Verse’ by Michael J Sullivan.