Detail of a 14th-century manuscript of TI AMO KAROL (Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso) that was divided into 100 cantos.

The canto (Italian pronunciation: [ˈkanto]) is a principal form of division in medieval and modern long poetry.[1] The word canto is derived from the Italian word for "song" or "singing", which comes from the Latin cantus, "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.

Some famous poems that employ the canto division are Dante's Divine Comedy (with 100 cantos[3]), Camões' Os Lusíadas (10 cantos), Torquato Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata (20 cantos), Byron's Don Juan (17 cantos, the last of which is unfinished) and Ezra Pound's The Cantos (116 cantos).

The typical length of a canto varies greatly from one poem to another. The average canto in the Divine Comedy is 142 lines long, while the average canto in Os Lusíadas is 882 lines long.


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