A stanza is a group of lines that form the basic metrical unit in a poem. So, in a 12-line poem, the first four lines might be a stanza. You can identify a stanza by the number of lines it has and its rhyme scheme or pattern, such as A-B-A-B. There are many different types of stanzas.
Stanzas are categorized by the number of lines included in them. You will often see an empty line after a stanza in a poem. Take a look at these sonnet examples to see which types of stanzas jump out at you.
A couplet is a stanza with two lines that rhyme. For example:
"But if thou live, remember'd not to be,
Die single, and thine image dies with thee."
- “Sonnet III,” William Shakespeare
A tercet is a stanza with three lines that may or may not rhyme. Tercets are also known as triplets. For example:
"Oh Galuppi, Baldassaro, this is very sad to find!
I can hardly misconceive you; it would prove me deaf and blind;
But although I take your meaning, 'tis with such a heavy mind!"
- “A Toccata of Galuppi’s,” Robert Browning
A quatrain is a stanza with four lines that may or may not rhyme. For example:
"He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake."
- “Stopping by Woods On a Snowy Evening,” Robert Frost
A quintain is a stanza with five lines that may or may not rhyme. For example:
"In the golden lightning
Of the sunken sun,
O'er which clouds are bright'ning,
Thou dost float and run,
Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun."
-“Ode to a Skylark,” Percy Bysshe Shelley
A sestet is a stanza with six lines that may or may not rhyme. For example:
"And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love — then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink."
- “When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be,” John Keats
A septet is a stanza with seven lines that may or may not rhyme. For example:
"But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older that we —
Of many far wiser than we —
And neither the angels in Heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;"
-“Annabel Lee,” Edgar Allan Poe
An octave is a stanza with eight lines that may or may not rhyme. For example:
"When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
'Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?'
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent"
- “Sonnet 19: When I consider how my light is spent,” John Milton
If you’d like to make a study of stanzas, it’s easy to find a wealth of examples. You’ll notice them as soon as you read the first section in a poem. Usually, they’re grouped together by their rhyme pattern and/or number of lines, with a break between each stanza. Let’s take a look at some of the most widely recognized poems and enjoy a selection of their stanzas.
This famous poem by Dylan Thomas is made up of five tercets ending with a quatrain.
"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light"
This beloved poem by Robert Frost features four quintains, or four stanzas with five lines each.
"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;"
This poem by Emily Dickinson features two sestets, or two stanzas with six lines each.
"The daisy follows soft the sun,
And when his golden walk is done,
Sits shyly at his feet.
He, waking, finds the flower near.
'Wherefore, marauder, art thou here?'
'Because, sir, love is sweet!'”
If you have ever sung along to your favorite song, you most likely sang some stanzas. In music, they’re known as verses. Songs are simply poetry set to music. With this in mind, you should be able to identify each stanza and its individual length. Typically, songs consist of at least two verses, a bridge (which may or may not repeated), and a chorus (that definitely repeats). In the examples below, you’ll notice the lyrics have a striking resemblance to the stanzas we study in poetry.
Just like poems, songs can be ballads. Explore some examples of ballads and you’ll see that many of the greats, including Elvis Presley, Elton John, and Eric Clapton are master poets, expressing themselves in lyrical form.
From this first verse of The Star Spangled Banner you can begin to see how America’s national anthem is actually a poem. It has four stanzas. Each stanza has eight lines (an octave) and there’s a clearly apparent rhyme pattern.
“Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
Have you ever thought of your favorite band as a band of poets? It’s true, if they write their own lyrics. Take this quintet from Every Breath You Take by The Police.
“Since you've gone I been lost without a trace
I dream at night I can only see your face
I look around but it's you I can't replace
I feel so cold and I long for your embrace
I keep crying baby, baby, please”
Similarly, Aerosmith wrote I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing in sestet form.
“I could stay awake just to hear you breathing
Watch you smile while you are sleeping
While you're far away and dreaming
I could spend my life in this sweet surrender
I could stay lost in this moment forever
Every moment spent with you is a moment I treasure.”
Ed Sheeran is known not only for his guitar skills but also for his beautiful lyrics. Take a look at his craft in Make It Rain, a song written in the octave stanza form.
“When the sins of my father
Weigh down in my soul
And the pain of my mother
Will not let me go
Well, I know there can come fire from the sky
To refine the purest of kings
And even though I know this fire brings me pain
Even so, and just the same”
Children’s songs also contain stanzas. These are usually light-hearted and funny, containing simple and easy words kids can learn. The song Boom, Boom Ain't It Great to Be Crazy? features almost all quatrains.
"A horse and a flea and three blind mice
Sat on a tombstone shooting dice.
The horse slipped and fell on the flea-
'Oops! said the flea, there's a horse on me!'”
The fun children's classic This Old Man includes all quintains.
"This old man, he played one,
He played knick knack with his thumb,
With a knick, knack, paddy whack,
Give the dog a bone;
This old man came rolling home"
As time progresses, you’ll be able to see how easy it is to identify a stanza in both poetry and song. Just like famous songwriters and poets of the past, you, too, can spot a stanza and create prose that will last through the ages. Once you’re comfortable with stanzas and their parameters, get ready to explore their counterpart, the free verse, in these examples of free verse poems. This is the wild child of the poetry world, with no rules, no rhyme, and no rhythm. See which one you prefer.