A stanza is the "proper" name for what is more commonly known as a "verse". (Confusingly, to prosodists the word "verse" seems often to mean what you and I would, in our ignorance, call a "line".)

Many standard verse forms consist of several similarly-structured stanzas. Most such forms fall within the definition of an ode. An ode imposes the further requirement that every line must rhyme with at least one other line of the same stanza. The present page covers both stanzas that qualify for use in odes, and those that don't.

Rhyming schemes will be indicated by a sequence of letters such as abcabc - this represents a 6-line stanza in which line 1 rhymes with line 4, line 2 with line 5, and line 3 with line 6. An x will be used for a line that doesn't rhyme with anything else - not even other lines denoted by x. Thus xxxxx denotes a 5-line stanza with no rhymes at all. 

I won't say anything here about metre unless I have to.

The list which follows is by no means complete and I will add more stanza forms as I encounter them, or discover names for them. I may also add examples of some of them, in the fullness of time.

Latest news: Several books of my poem, including Old Possum's Book of Practical Pigs,  are now available from Amazon in Kindle editions. Please see Publications page for more information.

2-line stanzas * 3-line stanzas * 4-line stanzas * 5-line stanzas * 6-line stanzas * 7-line stanzas * 8-line stanzas * 9-line stanzas * longer stanzas

ballade stanza * Balassi stanza * Burns stanza * cinquain * couplet * cross-rhyme * elegiac quatrain * envelope rhyme * heroic quatrain * hexastich * huitain * octave * octet * ottava rima * quatrain * quintain * quintet * rhyme royal * Scottish stanza * scupham * septet * sestet * sexain * sextain * sextet * sextilla * Sicilian octave * sixain * Spenserian stanza * standard Habbie * tercet * triplet * Troilus stanza * unrhymed quatrain * Venus and Adonis stanza

2-line stanzas

A 2-line stanza is called a couplet. aa is a rhymed couplet; xx an unrhymed couplet. The French call rhymed couplets rimes plates or rimes suivies.

3-line stanzas

A 3-line stanza of any kind is called a tercet. aaa is a triplet. axa is pretty common, occurring in forms such as the villanelle and terza rima (where in both cases there are also rhymes between stanzas). The haiku is a species of tercet, and so are some varieties of englyn (though not the one featured on this site).

4-line stanzas

A 4-line stanza of any kind is called a quatrain

There are four kinds of fully-rhymed (and hence odeworthy) quatrain: abab is known as cross-rhyme (French rimes croisées or rimes alternées) and abba as envelope-rhyme (French rimes embrassées). aabb is just a couple of couplets; the clerihew is one variety of this. aaaa is monorhymed; a particular case is the shairi, or Rustavelian quatrain

Depending on the metre, xaxa can yield a ballad, which is also sometimes regarded as a kind of ode. If xaxa is in iambic pentameter, then it is an elegiac quatrain or heroic quatrain.

aaxa is the rubai, as used to such excellent effect by Omar Khayyam. Even xxxx, the unrhymed quatrain, has its champion, in the person of Frank Kuppner. Look out for his A bad day for the Sung dynasty, and its sequel Second-Best Moments in Chinese History, each of which consists of 501 unrhymed quatrains.

5-line stanzas

A 5-line stanza of any kind can be called a quintain, a quintet, or a cinquain. However, the word cinquain is also used both for a particular verse form of French origin, and for a particular syllable-counting form (of no great merit or interest, as far as I can see).  It is therefore best to stick with quintain as the general word for any 5-line stanza.

The best-known form of quintain in the English-speaking world is a particular heterometric form (i.e. not all the lines are the same length) called the limerick. A sequence of limericks would constitute a perfectly well-formed ode, but might lack gravitas. The tanka is a species of quintain, and so is the bina, my own miniaturised sestina form.

6-line stanzas

As with 5-line stanzas, there is a potentially confusing variety of candidates for use as the general word for any 6-line stanza. I'm going to stick with sexain. Synonyms which I shall spurn include sixain, sextet and hexastich, as well as sestet (which usually means the last 6 lines of a sonnet) and sextain (which is sometimes used to mean sestina, a form of no fewer than 39 lines).

A large number of rhyming schemes are possible, of which only a small number have names. 

aabaab does not have a special name, but is the shortest form of stanza to exhibit tail rhyme.

ababcc in iambic pentameter is known as a Venus and Adonis stanza, after the poem by Shakespeare. The same rhyming scheme in iambic tetrameter is also common - Wordsworth used it for his Daffodils, for example - but it doesn't seem to have a name of its own.

abcabc is another common sexain form that deserves a name but doesn't have one.

abccba falls into the same category, though personally I call it the scupham, after the British poet Peter Scupham. I must confess that whenever I look for examples, he turns out to have used it as a complete stanza less often than I thought - but he has written a fair number of "sonnets" based on it.

aaabab can be a Burns stanza if the metre is right - the a lines each having 4 feet and the b lines 2. This is also known as the Scottish stanza, or standard Habbie.

xaxaxa can be used for an extended kind of ballad stanza - as used, for example, in Oscar Wilde's Ballad of Reading Gaol.

A Spanish form called the sextilla can rhyme aabccb or ababcc, and has 8-syllable lines - but beware! The Spanish have a somewhat eccentric way of counting syllables. And for additional confusion, they sometimes call the ababcc kind of sextilla a "sestina". (I'm beginning to think we may need an international body to impose standards on verse form nomenclature. Or perhaps that would spoil the fun...)

7-line stanzas

A 7-line stanza of any kind is called a septet. The most common such form, and apparently the only one to have a special name, is rhyme royal, which uses the scheme ababbcc, the lines having 10 syllables each i.e. (usually) iambic pentameter. Rhyme royal is also sometimes known as the Troilus stanza.

8-line stanzas

An 8-line stanza of any kind is called an octave (or occasionally an octet). The word octave is also used for the first 8 lines of a sonnet.

Ottava rima rhymes abababcc, the lines being of either 10 or 11 syllables (i.e. iambic pentameter, sometimes with an extra syllable). The most famous example of ottava rima in English is Byron's Don Juan.

The ballade stanza rhymes ababbcbc. A huitain uses either that same rhyming scheme or abbaacac, with either 8-syllable or 10-syllable lines, and is usually (but not always) a complete poem in its own right. The Sicilian octave rhymes abababab, the lines being, as far as I can make out, the same length as for ottava rima

9-line stanzas

The best known is the Spenserian stanza (after Edmund Spenser of the Faerie Queene), which rhymes ababbcbcc, the first 8 lines being pentameters and the last a hexameter or alexandrine.

If you have a deep-rooted desire to be obscure, there's the Balassi stanza, named after the 16th-century Hungarian Balint Balassi, which rhymes bbaccadda, with syllable counts 667667667. This is another example of tail rhyme.

Longer stanzas

As stanzas grow longer, the number of possible rhyming schemes increases rapidly and the number of forms found to deserve special names dwindles even more rapidly. One of them is the 14-line Onegin stanza.

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This page last updated 01/04/2013