Canto is a unit of division or subsection found in epics or long narrative poetry.

History of the Canto

The word “canto” comes from the Latin word cantus, meaning “song; bird-song;” and by the 16th century, “canto” was used to define a section of a long poem. Cantos were first adopted by Italian poets such as Dante Alighieri, Matteo Boiardo, and Ludovico Ariosto, and was employed in English by Edmund Spenser to demarcate divisions in their long narrative works. Cantos are sections that provide breaks in an epic or long narrative poem, essentially serving as the function of chapters in novels rather than stanzas found in other forms of poetry.

Examples of the Canto

Dante’s The Divine Comedy and Inferno, as well as Lord Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and Don Juan, are notable examples of using the canto. Other examples of cantos in poetry include The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser, The Lusiads by Luíz Vaz de Camões, Jerusalem Delivered by Torquato Tasso, and an unfinished epic by Ezra Pound is known simply as The Cantos. Read Canto V.