Poetic Terms: The Stanza

Publish date:

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.