Poetic Terms: The Stanza

While this might be too basic for some of the blog readers, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to share some poetic terms for poets who’ve not taken formal courses in poetry. Personally, I love knowing more about the various terms, and I’ve got such a bad memory that sometimes it’s good for me to have a refresher or two on the basics.

The stanza in its most basic sense is each group of lines in a poem. For instance, in a sestina there are 7 stanzas with the first 6 stanzas containing 6 lines and the final stanza consisting of 3 lines.

Stanzas can come in several different lengths, from one to one million (or more) lines in length. In fact, some of the shorter stanzas have official names that can be applied to them.

1-line stanzas are monostich.

2-line stanzas are couplets.

3-line stanzas are tercets.

4-line stanzas are quatrains.

5-line stanzas are quintains (or cinquains).

6-line stanzas are sixains (or sestets).

7-line stanzas are septets.

8-line stanzas are octaves.

So, getting back to the sestina, we could be all smart and say it is composed of six sixains followed by a tercet.

Or we could just say a sestina is composed of a sadistic pattern of end words that leave many poets curled up in a fetal position chanting, “There’s no place like home,” while clicking their heels together with their eyes shut tight against the world.

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11 thoughts on “Poetic Terms: The Stanza

  1. Sara Diane Doyle

    Poor sestina– It can come home with me and I will take care of it! I love sestinas and recently issues a poetry smackdown to several poet friends–the challenge? To write a sestina with given words. We all used the same 6 words and then swaped poems. It was a blast!

  2. Connie

    After the April Challenge I actually got a sestina published. In May I went through all of the prompts again. When I got to the Sestina the editor of Pray the Vote eNewsletter asked me to write a prayer poem so I wrote a prayer sestina and he published it. I was one of the ones who whined about the Sestina. Who would’ve thunk?

  3. Paige

    I suppose if you are half way good at a sestina you would find them "fun and exciting" but me being more of an actual meter / rhythm sorta gal prefer not doing ’em.
    and you know that means I fall in the last description a poet working on a sestina piece.
    But I have found some of them to be fun and interesting for me to read.

  4. Linda H.

    I agree with Michelle. I got thru the sestina in the challenge and found it rewarding, but I haven’T done one since (and am not sure if I will be doing on in the near future) and love your description, Robert.

  5. Joanita Pinto

    Hi Robert,
    I did the Poem-a-day challenge (that I thoroughly enjoyed)and I came back now to see what other fun was happening. And i find octaves and sestinas. I grin. I love the way you write. I love the way you make the grammar of it sound simple. But still I agree with the fetal position and chanting. Rock on.

  6. Michelle H.

    Robert, always find what you post here informative – so thanks!! I actually enjoyed the Sestina but love your description. I um, of course, have not done one since. 😉

  7. Amy Barlow Liberatore

    Robert, I vote on eyes shut tight. I hate math.

    Margaret, I regret to inform your partner that the OED has indeed included "google" as a verb in its latest edition.
    Also, as a musician, I find an "octet" is usually eight fat guys in striped vests and straw hats, barbershopping "In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree"!

    LOL Peace to all who enter this posting, Amy (Momskas)

    PS Look! I have a home page, a blog devoted to poetry (and sometimes ranting). It’s called Poetmomskas: Grey Pride. Hope you will check it out, me in all my glory along with some political zap photos/montages.

  8. Margaret

    Robert, love the definition of a sestina!

    On the stanza definitions, I’d always heard an eight line stanza called an "octet," not an octave, so I googled* and found that "octave" is allegedly** the more common term.

    *My partner is convinced that "google" is not a verb …
    **and of course, if I use it, it must be the more common term..


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