What is Stanza? Here’s How to Write Visual Poetry

what is stanza cover image

Stanza is the paragraph of poetry. When writing (and reading) poems, there are groups of lines that are grouped together, sharing one or more common attributes. This group is called a stanza and it can have multiple lines, ranging from two to twelve. But what makes stanza, a stanza? What are the common attributes that group them together and how can the structure of the stanza create visual poetry? We discuss all in this article. 

What is a stanza in poetry 

The poem is all about getting a thought across. These thoughts are grouped into groups of sentences that have a few common traits such as the meter, rhyme, theme, or message. The number of sentences also changes the type of stanza and the type of poetry. Some literary devices such as anaphora, enjambment, etc, are all dependent on the stanzas. 

Types of stanzas

Based on the number of sentences, stanzas can be divided accordingly. We have omitted the single-line stanza which is called monostich.

infographic showing different types of stanzas

Couplet: The word comes from “couple” which means two. So the stanzas which are composed of two lines are called a couplet. One of the most famous figures in the literary world, William Shakespear was very fond of couplets, using them often in his writings.

“Blessed are you whose worthiness gives scope,

Being had, to triumph; being lacked, to hope.”

Sonnet 52

Alexander Pope also used a lot of couplets in his writings. Here’s one example;

“Be not the first by whom the new are tried,

Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.”

Alexander Pope

Notice the rhyming scheme here? It is always a, a. There’s no room for any other rhyming scheme. And if there is no rhyme or meter, it is not a poem.

Here’s one from Geoffrey Chaucer, considered to be the father of English literature;

“So pardon the wild crazy thing I just said —

I’m just not the same since there’s rain in my head.”

Geoffrey Chaucer

Tercet: A stanza consisting of three lines is called a tercet. The rhyming scheme here can have some variation, either a, b, a or a, a, a, or even a, b, b if you are feeling a bit unorthodox. There are different versions of tercet poems based on rhyme or syllable. 

Haiku: Perhaps the most famous amongst tercets, haiku is a Japanese form of poetry. In the three lines, the first line contains five syllables, the second line contains seven syllables and the third line has five syllables

The world of dew —
A world of dew it is indeed,
And yet, and yet . . .”

Kobayashi Issa

Sicilian tercet: This form of tercet employs a rhyming scheme of a, b, a. So an example of this would be: 

A sense of wonder that burns in me 

Brings passion in my mind 

A new eye opens for me to see

Triplet: In a triplet, the rhyming scheme is the same for all the lines, which is a, a, a. So all the words are perfectly rhyming. An example would be this; 

The glaring sun casts a shadow

On the empty lifeless meadow 

A lifeless song from the moon’s widow

Quatrain: Perhaps the most popular form of poetry is the quatrain in which each stanza is made of four lines of similar theme/meter/rhyme. The rhyming scheme in quatrain is usually alternating, like a, b, a, b but it is not restricted to one scheme. There are multiple forms of quatrain stanzas such as ballad, elegiac, Italian, Memoriam, Goethe, etc. 

Examples include the likes of Robert Frost’s Stopping by the Wood on a Snowy Evening, Emily Dickinson’s Because I Could Not Stop for Death;

My little horse must think it queer   

To stop without a farmhouse near   

Between the woods and frozen lake   

The darkest evening of the year.   

– Robert Frost

Because I could not stop for Death –

He kindly stopped for me –

The Carriage held but just Ourselves –

And Immortality.

– Emily Dickinson

Quantain/Cinquain: Stanzas made of five lines are called quantians. This stanza is very similar to the quatrain with the most common rhyming scheme being alternating rhymes. Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken is one example of quantain stanzas. Quantain is also called a cinquain. Read the analysis of The Road Not Taken.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

– The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Sestet: I am sure you must have noticed a pattern and know how many lines a sestet has? The sestet is made of six lines and the most popular place you’ll find sestet is in Italian sonnets. An Italian sonnet is made of 14-lines with two stanzas. One has eight lines and the other has six lines. An example of this would be John Milton’s When I Consider How My Light is Spent and P.B Shelley’s Ozymandias 

When I consider how my light is spent

Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,

And that one talent which is death to hide

Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent

To serve therewith my Maker, and present

My true account, lest he returning chide;

When I Consider How My Light is Spent by John Milton

“Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?”

I fondly ask; but Patience to prevent

That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need

Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best

Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state

Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed

And post o’er land and ocean without rest:

They also serve who only stand and wait.”

“And on the pedestal these words appear:

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Septet: Stanza which is made of seven lines is called septet stanzas. It is difficult to find stand-alone poems with just one septet although it can exist in different forms of longer poems. The septet is also called as Troilus stanza or Rhyme Royal. 

Octave: Another form of the stanza which is wildly popular is the octave which is formed of eight lines. Eight lines offer symmetrical meter and scheme to make the poem sound pleasant. The second part of the sonnet is also an octave or octet. Examples of this would be Dickinson’s Tell the Truth but Tell it Slant and the first stanza of Dulcet et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen.

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind —

Excerpt from Dulcet et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Stanzas with more than 8-lines can exist and do exist but they are not that popular and are usually broken down into smaller, symmetrical parts. An example cited before, Dulcet et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owens has one such example. The last stanza is made of 12-lines. You can read the entire poem Dulce et Decorum Est and its analysis here.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro Patria Mori.

Shape stanzas

The length and the size of the stanzas can be made symmetrical or any shape to resemble a particular shape. This is, of course, a very niche form of writing poems that appeal visually as well. So if you were to write a poem that resembled a square visually, you will have to maintain the length of the sentence as well as the number of lines of the stanza to make it look like a square.

The best literary device to use in the case of shape stanzas is enjambment. Enjambment is when a line is continued to the next line.

The symmetry is stanza is not limited to the shape but also rhyme, meter, and syllables. Isometric stanzas are such examples where the syllabic beat is maintained throughout. Stanzas in which the rhyming pattern remains constant is also considered as a symmetrical stanza. Here’s an example of a poem that is written in a way that resembles a diamond.

The silence of the moonlit night speaks
Questions they have and answers they seek
Rustling leaves of trees whisper, keep asking me
Who is the girl that finds a place in every verse made
Like scent pervades, she’s always there, soul of your poetry
An answer to such an inquiry is impossible to conceive
For the answer shall never cease always has an “and”
An “end” shall never be reached. To try, let me see
An embodiment she is, of not just my destiny
She is the reason for my beautiful journey
My sole destination, my only dream.
To chaotic thoughts, a solidarity
The most blissful of blessings
Its just words that I write
That tends to rhyme
she turns it into
a poetry
to see

original poem by wordsrum

Here’s another example of a symmetrical poem that resembles a square shape:

What is the soul
The fire of own
A fervent desire
A ceaseless fire
A retreat of will
Till all is tranquil

original poetry by wordsrum

Another poem that resembles a triangle:

Is
it all
worth all
the pain that we
get or something that
we forget that belongs
to all the humans, to suffer
till everything is turned into ash
And everything we have comes to end

All these poems belong to Wordsrum, but if you want to use them, you are free to do so. Just credit our website with the link. This concludes the article. Read more related articles:

Here are all the literary devices used in poetry

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