Types of Stanzas*

The type of stanza in a poem may be determined by counting the number of lines in the stanza. In English, for example, the most common type of stanza is the quatrain, or four line stanza. A Shakespearian Sonnet consists of three quatrains and a couplet – or fourteen lines divided into three four line stanzas and a two line stanza.

Stanzas are often named according to Roman numerical prefixes:

…there is no word for a one line stanza – that’s simply a line.

Couplet - Two line stanza. When in Iambic Pentameter, it is a Heroic Couplet

Triplet/Tercet - Three line stanza (both are correct)

Quatrain - As stated, has four lines

Quintet/Cinquain - Five line stanza. Although both are correct, I favor cinquain, as quintet us usually used in a musical context.

Sestet/Sextain - Six lines. I suspect that freshman English literature classes have a lot to do with why the latter name is seldom used.

Septet -Seven lines. When in iambic pentameter, this is called Rhyme Royal. Supposedly, this is because King James I really liked it.

Octave/Sicilian Octave - Eight line stanza. I have no idea why it is sometimes called Sicilian, perhaps to distinguish it from a musical octave? If anybody knows, could you msg me?

References to nine line stanzas usually are to the Spenserian Stanza.

It is not unheard of for a poetic form to be named after its length in some way. Examples of this are the Sestina, the Septinarius, the Triolet, and the Cinquain.

Sources: Allen Grossman’s Introduction to Poetry class, Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, and me noggin.


*I tried saying Stanzaic Forms, which is grammatically correct, but Stanzaic is just a stupid looking word.

Stan"za (?), n.; pl. Stanzas (#). [It. stanza a room, habitation, a stanza, i. e., a stop, fr. L. stans, p.pr. of stare to stand. See Stand, and cf. Estancia, Stance, Stanchion.]

1.

A number of lines or verses forming a division of a song or poem, and agreeing in meter, rhyme, number of lines, etc., with other divisions; a part of a poem, ordinarily containing every variation of measure in that poem; a combination or arrangement of lines usually recurring; whether like or unlike, in measure.

Horace confines himself strictly to one sort of verse, or stanza, in every ode. Dryden.

2. Arch.

An apartment or division in a building; a room or chamber.

 

© Webster 1913.

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