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What is a stanza?

A stanza is a unit of lines in a poem and can take a variety of forms.


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Last Updated May 26, 2023.

A stanza is a group of lines that form a unit within a poem. Each stanza within a poem often has the same number of lines and a consistent metrical pattern and rhyme scheme, but this is optional. 


The word stanza is Italian, which currently has the same meaning as in English, and originally meant "room, station, stay." Stanza derives from the Latin word stantem, meaning "to stand."


Some types of stanzas are named after the number of lines they contain, such as a couplet (two lines), tercet (three lines), or quatrain (four lines). Others are named after writers who invented or popularized them, such as Edmund Spenser and the Spenserian stanza, which Edmund Spenser invented for his poem "The Faerie Queene."

And all the world in their subjection held, 

Till that infernal feend with foul uprore 

Forwasted all their land, and them expelled; 

Whom to avenge, she had this knight forlore: 

For that he could not save one silly woman pore, 

Who, silly woman, had set her life in nought; 

Yet litle knowes what her before is bore, 

And nowe her guiltie handes for death hath sought: 

But, death her guiltie handes can nought for death have bought.

In this excerpt, Spenser employs the Spenserian stanza to describe a significant event in the narrative. The stanza demonstrates the distinctive rhyme scheme and the use of iambic pentameter, as well as the concluding Alexandrine. It showcases Spenser's ability to create a rhythmic and harmonious flow within the structure of the Spenserian stanza while advancing the story and conveying emotional depth.


see: poetry

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