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Detail of a 14th-century manuscript of Dante Alighieri's Commedia, a three-part poem (Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso) that was divided into 100 cantos

The canto (Italian pronunciation: [ˈkanto]) is a principal form of division in a long poem.[1] The word canto is derived from Italian word for "song" or singing; which is derived from the Latin cantus, for "a song", from the infinitive verb canere—to sing.[1][2] The use of the canto was described in the 1911 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica as " a convenient division when poetry was more usually sung by the minstrel to his own accompaniment than read".[1] There is no specific format, construction, or style for a canto and it is not limited to any one type of poetry.

Famous poems that employ the canto division are Luís de Camões' Os Lusíadas (10 cantos), Lord Byron's Don Juan (17 cantos, the last of which unfinished), Valmiki's Ramayana (500 cantos[3]), Dante's The Divine Comedy (100 cantos[4]), and Ezra Pound's The Cantos (116 cantos).


  1. ^ a b c Wikisource-logo.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Canto". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  2. ^ "Canto", The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 27 September 2015.
  3. ^ Dutt 2004, p. 198
  4. ^ "The Divine Comedy: A Study Guide". Michael J. Cummings. 2003. Retrieved 2010-01-09. 


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