Decima – The Little Sonnet

For those who find poetic forms a source of inspiration, there is one that has been called the “little sonnet” that bears scrutiny in this series on sonnets. Even though it does not have some key characteristics of the sonnet form, namely fourteen-lines in length or a twofold nature separated by a turn or volta. Arguably, it has a long track record of expressive power and popularity, which is where it gains comparison with the sonnet.

The decima denotes a ten-line stanza, and more specifically references an old Spanish / Portuguese form often attributed to Vicente Espinel (1550 – 1624) so sometimes called the decima espinela. Each line has eight syllables, so think tetrameter rather than pentameter.

It is in two stanzas rhymed ABBA ACCDDC. There is also a decima italiana rhymed ABABC DEDEC.

More extended forms can be created with several decimas in sequence with a leading quatrain. One could, I suppose, create a fourteen-liner with just a quatrain and a decima.

There are many examples in contemporary poetry where a form with a prescribed line length is written with varied line lengths, so this should be possible with the decima form too, opening up new expressive possibilities with different line breaks.

I understand that the Decima is a very popular form in some Latin countries, both as written and as a spoken word form. This highlights the song-like nature of the form.

For my research, I have read several examples in English and tried to write a couple of these to get the feel of it. I have tried the form as two sets of enclosing rhymes: ABBAA CCDDC. My conclusion is that the creation process does feel like that of a miniature sonnet and the results are pleasing enough. There’s not much space to play with, say, for narrative poems as there is only 80/140 or just under 60% of the syllables available in a sonnet. For me it demonstrates another data point or ranging shot as to how ideal the fourteen-line form is. It also seems to suit a lighter form of verse, rather than the heavier themes addressed by sonneteers, such as loss or life events.

Anyway, I will take my sample poems along to a workshop and see who likes it. So, is this form a “little sonnet” in my opinion?

FOR: Concision of expression. A heritage associated with song. Long and proven track record.

AGAINST: Although twofold in nature, it does not have a turn where one might be expected in a typical sonnet. Reduced scope for description or narrative. May suit more slender themes. There is a perfect-ness about the fourteen-line length that is lost with the Decima.

[Source: Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetics and Poetry, Greene and Cushman]

Little Sonnet - Decima - Cropped - Title

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