The Italian word for “turn,” a volta is a rhetorical shift that marks the change of a thought or argument in a poem.
Other common names for volta include turn, fulcrum, or hinge. The volta marks a shift from the main narrative or idea of the poem and awakens readers to a different meaning or to a reveal in the conclusion of the poem. They often use words like “but,” “yet,” or “however” to distinguish a reversal or shift in thought.
Voltas are part of the sonnet form. In the Petrarchan sonnet, the volta occurs between the eighth and ninth lines. In the Shakespearean sonnet, the volta occurs before the final couplet. Voltas are also characteristics of other poetic forms, and can even occur in free verse poems.
Examples of poems with voltas include “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun (Sonnet 130)” by William Shakespeare, “The Sea and the Skylark” by Gerard Manley Hopkins,” “[I come weary,]” by Matsuo Basho, “Polycystic Study of Intimacy” by Aricka Foreman,” and “The Hand” by Mary Ruefle.