A stanza is a division of a poem based on thought or form. Stanzas based on form are marked by their rhyme scheme. Stanzas are known by the number of lines they contain. The basic stanza forms are:

a. couplet: two-line stanza
b. triplet or tercet: three-line stanza
c. quatrain: four-line stanza

d. quintet: five-line stanza

e. sestet: six-line stanza

f. septet: seven-line stanza

g. octave: eight-line stanza

HEROIC COUPLET—(sometimes called a closed couplet) consists of two successive rhyming verses that contain a complete thought within the two lines. It usually consists of iambic pentameter lines.

Heroic couplets, classical and cold,
Can make new matters smack of something old.

TERZA RIMA—is a three-line stanza form with an interlaced or interwoven rhyme scheme: a-b-a, b-c-b, c-d-c, d-e-d, etc. Usually iambic pentameter.

The unrhymed middle line, in the tight schema

Of tercets spinning out a lengthy text
(Dante gave us this form, called terza rima),

Rhymes, after all, with the start of the next
Tercet then helps set up a new unrhymed
That, sure of foot and not at all perplexed,

Walks across blank space, as it did last time.
(A couplet ends this little paradigm.)

BALLAD STANZA—consists of four lines with a rhyme scheme of a-b-c-b. The first and third lines are tetrameter and the second and fourth are trimeter. NOT ALL FOUR-LINE POEMS ARE BALLADS

The ballad stanza’s four short lines
Are very often heard;
The second and the fourth lines rhyme But not the first and third.

LIMERICK—is a five-line nonsense poem with an anapestic meter. The rhyme scheme is a-a-b-b-a. The first, second, and fifth lines have three stresses; and the third and fourth have two stresses.


This most famous of forms is a fiddle
That we rub with an original riddle;
But the best of a limerick—
Though in Dutch or in Cymric—
Are the little short lines in the middle.

RIME ROYAL—is a stanza consisting of seven lines in iambic pentameter rhyming a-b-a-b-b-c-c. It is called so because King James I used it. Below is an example from William Shakespeare.

A thousand lamentable objects there,
In scorn of nature, art gave lifeless life:
Many a dry drop seem’d a weeping tear,
Shed for the slaughter’d husband by the wife;
The red blood reek’d to show the painter’s strife, And dying eyes gleam’d forth their ashy lights, Like dying coals burnt out in tedious nights.

OTTAVA RIMA—consists of eight iambic pentameter lines with a rhyme scheme of a-b-a-b-a-b-c-c. It is a form that was borrowed from the Italians. Below is an example from George Gordon, Lord Byron.

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Perfect she was, but as perfection is
Insipid in this naughty world of ours,
Where our first parents never learned to kiss
Till they were exiled from their earlier bowers,
Where all was peace, and innocence, and bliss
(I wonder how they got through the twelve hours) Don José like a lineal son of Eve,
Went plucking various fruit without her leave.

SPENSERIAN STANZA—is a nine-line stanza consisting of eight iambic pentameter lines followed by an alexandrine, a line of the iambic hexameter. The rhyme scheme is a-b-a-b-b-c-b-c-c. The form derives its name from 16th Century English poet Edmund Spenser, who initiated the form for his epic poem Faerie Queene.

A true Spenserian stanza wakes up well
With what will seem a quatrain first; in time
The third line rings its “a” rhyme like a bell,
The fourth, its “b” resounding like a dime
In a pay telephone—this paradigm
Demonstrating the kind of interlocking
Of quatrains doubling back on the same rhyme
Ends in an alexandrine, gently rocking
The stanza back to sleep, lest the close be too shocking.

VILLANELLE—consists of five tercets and a quatrain in which the first and third lines of the opening tercet recur alternately at the end of the other tercets and together as the last two lines of the quatrain.

SONNET—is a fourteen-line stanza form consisting of iambic pentameter lines. The two major sonnet forms are the Italian (Petrarchan) and the English (Shakespearean) sonnet. A third relatively well-known form is Spenserian.

Petrarchan or Italian Sonnet—is divided between eight lines called the octave, using two rhymes arranged a-b-b-aa-b-b-a, and six lines called the sestet, using any arrangement of either two or three rhymes: c-d-c-d-c-d and c-d-e- c-d-e are common patterns. The division between octave and sestet in the Italian sonnet usually corresponds to a division of thought. The octave may, for instance, present a situation and the sestet a comment, or the octave an idea and the sestet an example, or the octave a question and the sestet an answer. Thus, structure reflects meaning.

Milton and Wordsworth made the sonnet sound
Again in a new way; not with the sighs
Of witty passion, where fierce reason lies
Entombed in end-stopped lines, or tightly bound
In chains of quatrain: more like something found
Than built—a smooth stone on a sandy rise,
A drop of dew secreted from the sky’s Altitude, unpartitioned, whole and round.
The octave’s over; now, gently defying
Its opening tone, the sestet then recalls
Old rhythms and old thoughts, enjambed, half-heard
As verses in themselves. The final word, Five lines away from what it rhymes with, falls Off into silence, like an echo dying.

English or Shakespearean Sonnet—is composed of three quatrains and a concluding couplet, rhyming a-b-a-b c-dc-d e-f-e-f g-g. Again the units marked off by the rhymes and the development of the thought often correspond. The three quatrains, for instance, may present three examples and the couplet a conclusion or the quatrains three metaphorical statements of one idea and the couplet an application.

The kind of sonnet form that Shakespeare wrote
—A poem of Love, or Time, in fourteen lines
Rhymed the way these are, clear, easy to quote— Channels strong feelings into deep designs.
Three quatrains neatly fitting limb to joint,
Their lines cut with the sharpness of a prism,
Flash out in colors as they make their point
In what logicians call a syllogism— (If A, and B, then C)—and so it goes,
Unless the final quatrain starts out “But” Or “Nevertheless,” these groups of lines dispose Themselves in reasoned sections, tightly shut.
The final couplet’s tight and terse and tends To sum up neatly how the sonnet ends.


BALLAD – narrative poem using relatively simple, sometimes archaic language to relate an often well-known story. Ballads conventionally feature ordinary, socially lowly characters, on the one hand, and, on the other, extraordinary action, often involving supernatural occurrences, tragic love, and/or semi-historical, legendary subjects such as Robin Hood. Will often use the ballad stanza form.

ELEGY—usually a poem that mourns the death or loss of an individual, the absence of something deeply loved, or the transience of mankind. The elements of a traditional elegy mirror three stages of loss. First, there is a lament, where the speaker expresses grief and sorrow, then praise and admiration of the idealized dead, and finally consolation and solace.

EPIC – long narrative poem in elevated language that celebrates the achievements of one or more heroic (often male) personages of history or legend, and also begins in the middle of the action (in media res). Typically feature an epic hero, who possess both high social rank and office, as well as extraordinary, even superhuman, qualities, and skills. A MOCK EPIC is a similar poem that uses epic language and conventions to depict subject matter – settings, characters, events – that usually wouldn’t make it in epic poetry.

EPITAPH – A short poem intended for (or imagined as) an inscription on a tombstone and often serving as a brief elegy.

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LYRIC—is the most widely used type of poem, so diverse in its format that a rigid definition is impossible. However, several factors run common in all lyrics:
a. limited length d. expression of thoughts and feelings of one speaker
b. intensely subjective e. highly imaginative
c. personal expression of emotion f. regular rhyme scheme

NARRATIVE POEM—a poem that tells a story.

ODE—an exalted, complex, rapturous lyric poem written about a dignified, lofty subject—a hero, an aspect of nature, etc. The ode generally has three parts: a strophe, an antistrophe, and an epode. The antistrophes of the ode possess similar metrical structures and, depending on the tradition, similar rhyme structures. In contrast, the epode is written with a different scheme and structure. Odes have formal poetic diction, and generally, deal with a serious subject. The strophe and antistrophe look at the subject from different, often conflicting, perspectives, with the epode moving to a higher level to either view or resolve the underlying issues.

PASTORAL—a poem, play or story that celebrates and idealizes the simple life of shepherds and shepherdesses. The term has also come to refer to an artistic work that portrays rural life in an idyllic or idealistic way. Poets writing in English drew on the pastoral tradition by retreating from the trappings of modernity to the imagined virtues and romance of rural life. Its themes persist in poems that romanticize rural life or reappraise the natural world.


CADENCE—a rhythmic sequence or flow of sounds in language. A repeated pattern of rhythm.

ENJAMBMENT—in poetry, the running over of a sentence from one verse or stanza into the next without stopping at the end of the first. When the sentence or meaning does stop at the end of the line it is called—END-STOPPED LINE.

A line can be end-stopped, just like this one,
Or it can show enjambment, just like this
One, where the sense straddles two lines: you feel As if from shore you’d stepped into a boat.

EXPLICATION—literally an “unfolding.” In an explication an entire poem is explained in detail, addressing every element and unravelling any complexities as a means of analysis.

ELISION– The omission of an unstressed vowel or syllable to preserve the meter of a line of poetry. Alexander uses elision in “Sound and Sense”: “Flies o’er th’ unbending corn….”

SCANSION—the process of measuring the stresses in a line of verse in order to determine the metrical pattern of the line.

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