10 Standard Types of Stanza Forms in Poetry
What is a Stanza?
Stanza forms appear in poetry with all kinds of variations across cultures, generations, and poets. However, some standard forms of stanza have been popularized by famous poets who made a mark in poetry with their amazing forms. Before we examine these types of stanza forms, let's clarify what a stanza is.
A stanza in poetry is the equivalent of a paragraph in prose. It's a group of lines arranged together to form one unit of a poem. Therefore, stanzas divide a poem.
Some poems have one stanza, and others have more stanzas. When a poem possesses two or more stanzas, they are separated by leaving a space in between the concluding line of one stanza and the first line of the following stanza.
Most classical poems with prescribed forms have fixed stanza forms. Poets use various forms of stanzas in a single poem, or they can use a uniform stanza form from the beginning to the end. Also, every so often one stanza can stand alone as a type of poem on its own. For instance, the Haiku type of poem has three lines and it's done.
Modern poets frequently combine various stanza forms in one poem, or they don't follow fixed meters and rhyme. However, frequently, poems will fall under the categories of stanza forms described in this article.
Identifying Stanza Forms
The most common stanza forms are identified by examining the:
- number of lines in a stanza
- rhyme scheme
- the poet who popularized the specific form
The Importance of Stanzas
1.Stanzas separate prose from poetry. A poem is often recognized at a glance because of the stanzas.
2. Stanzas simplify the process of memorizing poems.
3. Stanzas group specific lines with the same idea to ease the reader's understanding.
4. Stanzas help to define formal types of poems.
Types of Stanza Forms
Poets all over the world compose different types of stanzas all the time with some being unnamed as yet. Stanza forms have acquired a name because of the number of lines per stanza. However, other variations of stanza forms have cropped up because of how widely they have been used or the fame of the poet who is believed to have introduced the form to the world. Continue reading the following list of the most common stanza forms in the world of poetics based on line count.
A monostich is a one-line stanza. It also refers to a one-line poem. It expresses a complete thought.
Example of a monostich stanza/poem.
Winter Echo by Yvor Winters
Thin air! My mind is gone.
This stanza form is made up of two lines. Since it has only two lines, they must rhyme. Also, classical couplets have the same meter and rhythm. William Shakespeare's sonnets often end with a couplet, to summarize the theme of the specific poems.
Check out this poem that uses the couplet stanza form.
Beasts and Men Poem by Centfie
Animal is what you should be
To spend your life wildly sin-free
Multiple sexual mates is fornication
To the beasts it is just procreation
By stealing you can’t be blameless
Beasts steal and remain sinless
For food they murder their own
Sin is to kill even a baby unborn
There exist men worse than beasts
Yet they are not in the wanted lists
The tercet has 3 lines. You can use the tercet as a whole poem. The Haiku is an example of a tercet poem. When a three-line stanza rhymes it's called a triplet. The Villanelle poem is a good example of a type of poem with tercets. It has five tercets and a quatrain.
Check out this example of a tercet.
Finality by Centfie
Final time to trust
Final time to see light
Cats live to eat
"Quatrain" is the official term for a stanza of four lines. There's no limit to this stanza form -it can rhyme or not, it can have a regular meter or not. In fact, it is a very common stanza form since it is found in many cultures.
I can't help giving an example of one of my own poems which uses the quatrain. Note that I used a couplet stanza as the intro of this poem.
Her Life was a Blessing Poem by Centfie
As we mourn today, we will mourn tomorrow,
but then we hope for an end to our sorrow.
Thank God for giving her
The chance to enjoy breathing
She learnt new languages
She helped others to fight on.
She had happy and hard times
She fought cancer to the end
In her great pain she cried
But also found time to smile.
As we mourn for the loss
For her life was a blessing
With time we will be healed
Taking our time to grieve.
The quintain or quintet stanza has five lines. The cinquain is a type of quintain consisting of five lines with a fixed syllable scheme per line. Limerick and tanks poems use the quintain stanza.
The following excerpt from a poem called The World written by George Herbert applies the quintet stanza form.
The World by George Herbert
Love built a stately house, where Fortune came,
And spinning fancies, she was heard to say
That her fine cobwebs did support the frame,
Whereas they were supported by the same;
But Wisdom quickly swept them all away.
The Pleasure came, who, liking not the fashion,
Began to make balconies, terraces,
Till she had weakened all by alteration;
But reverend laws, and many a proclamation
Reforméd all at length with menaces.
The sestet stanza form has six lines. There's no limit, you may rhyme or not. The Sestina type of poem applies this effectively. Although the last stanza of a sestina is a tercet.
This is an example of a poem which has sestet stanzas. The following is not the complete poem, it's an excerpt of the first two stanzas of Elizabeth Bishop's poem known as Sestina.
Sestina by Elizabeth Bishop
September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.
She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,
The septet stanza form has seven lines. As long as the stanza has seven lines it's a septet. Whether it has a rhyme scheme, regular meter or not. The seven-line stanza is often used in long poems. The septet can also stand alone as a whole poem.
This septet example is the fifth stanza excerpted from Edgar Allan Poe's poem called Annabel Lee. The other stanzas in this poem have six or eight lines each giving it a disticntive rhythm.
Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe
But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we—
Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee:
Edgar Allan Poe
The octave stanza form has eight lines in any meter and rhyme scheme. It can stand as a whole poem. The Ottava Rima is a type of octet stanza form often found in Italian literature and used to praise heroic deeds.
This is the first stanza excerpted from Among School Children by William Butler Yeats.
Among School Children by William Butler Yeats
I walk through the long schoolroom questioning;
A kind old nun in a white hood replies;
The children learn to cipher and to sing,
To study reading-books and history,
To cut and sew, be neat in everything
In the best modern way—the children's eyes
In momentary wonder stare upon
A sixty-year-old smiling public man.
William Butler Yeats
The Spenserian Stanza
The Spenserian stanza form was actively used by a famous classical poet known as Edmund Spenser. It has nine lines with a rhyme scheme of ababbcbcc. Eight lines follow the iambic pentameter while the ninth line has six iambic feet.
The following nine-line stanza is excerpted from Spenser's poem known as The Fairie Queen.
The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser
But on his brest a bloudie Crosse he bore,
The deare remembrance of his dying Lord,
For whose sweete sake that glorious badge he wore,
And dead as living ever him ador’d:
Upon his shield the like was also scor’d,
For soveraine hope, which in his helpe he had:
Right faithfull true he was in deede and word,
But of his cheere did seeme too solemne sad;
Yet nothing did he dread, but ever was ydrad.
The Dizain Stanza
The dizain derives its name from French literature. Dix-pronounced "diz" means "ten" in French. Thus, the dizain stanza form has 10 lines. As other stanza forms, it can stand alone as a complete poem.
Check out the following excerpt of a ten-line stanza from a long poem by John Keats entitled Ode on a Grecian Urn. This is Stanza 2 of the poem.
Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
Now that you have examples of basic stanza forms and their names, why don't you create some poetry? Or analyze the stanza forms of your favorite poems. The beauty of poetry is that you can have fun creating them. Or, invent your own stanza form and give it a name.
Questions & Answers
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