Poetry, like any art form, combines creativity and technique to produce realized concepts within a certain medium. One of the techniques used to achieve a poet’s ideas is the use of stanzas. Stanzas are both a functional and creative tool that influences a poem and how it is read. What is a stanza in a poem used for?

In this article, we’ll take a look at the stanza definition and how stanzas are used to influence a poem. We’ll also look at the different types of stanzas poet’s have at their disposal.

What is a Stanza in a Poem Used For?

First, let’s define stanza

Before we dive into the functions of a stanza and the various ways they can be used in poetry, we must first look at the stanza definition.

STANZA DEFINITION

What is a stanza in poetry?

A stanza is a set of lines that are grouped together in a poem. Stanzas are separated from other stanzas in order to divide and organize a poem. In poetry, stanzas function similarly to how paragraphs function in prose. There are various types of stanzas that are typically defined by the number of lines in the stanza. Stanzas are used by poets to influence a poem’s structure, rhythm, shape, and organization. 

What is a stanza used for?

  • Structure
  • Rhythm
  • Shape
  • Organization

What is a Stanza Used For?

Why are stanzas important?

Stanzas are used for both logistical and creative reasons in poetry. They are a tool a poet can use to influence how a poem reads and appears.

Structure

The most fundamental reason stanzas are important in poetry is because they provide a poem’s structure. Every poem relies on some sort of structural framework. Stanzas are able to create this framework by dividing lines and chunks of words into different segments.

This poem titled “There is another sky” by Emily Dickinson has two stanzas that creates the structure of the poem and divides it into two separate parts. 

What is a Stanza in a Poem Stanza example literature — Dickinson

Stanza example literature  •  Dickinson

Organization

Just like paragraphs are used in prose to organize different topics within a larger essay or body of work, stanzas are used for organization in poetry. For example, the first stanza in a poem may explore one topic and as the poem transitions into another topic or idea, a new stanza is introduced. 

Shape

Some poets use stanzas to create the visible shape of a poem. Lines within a stanza can utilize empty, negative space or words to create positive space. This creates a composition in the stanza that influences the overall shape of a poem. For example, in this poem titled “Easter Wings” by George Herbery, the stanzas are used to create the shape of literal wings. 

What is a Stanza in a Poem Stanza example literature

Stanza example literature

Rhythm

Lastly, stanzas contribute to the rhythm and meter of a poem. Lines within the same stanza are often read together creating the author’s intended rhythm as the reader reads it. A break in between stanzas will often create a pause or hesitation in the reading of a poem, further contributing to a poem’s rhythm.

To utilize these functions of stanzas, poets enlist various types of stanzas to create different shapes, rhythms, and structures. 

What Does Stanza Mean in Poetry?

Types of stanza forms

Stanzas are typically defined by the number of lines within the stanza as well as the rhyming pattern. There are various stanza forms that exist. The names of the stanzas derive from the latin roots of the number of lines within the stanza. 

Monostitch

A monostich is a one-line stanza structure in poetry. A monostitch can stand alone as an entire poem or it can be used to break up the rhythm of a poem. 

Couplet

A couplet is a stanza structure with two lines that usually rhyme. Couplets are one of the more common types of stanzas. Learn more about couplets in the video below. 

What does stanza mean  •  Couplets and Stanzas

Tercet

A stanza made up of 3 lines is called a tercet. In a tercet, all three lines rhyme or the first and third line rhyme (also called an ABA pattern). 

Quatrain

A quatrain is a stanza with four lines. In a quatrain, the second and fourth lines typically rhyme. 

Quintain

A quintain, sometimes called a cinquain, is a stanza with five lines. 

Seset

A seset, sometimes called a sestain, is a stanza with a total of six lines. 

Sepet 

Sometimes called a “rhyme royal”, a sepet is a stanza with a total of seven lines.

Octave

A stanza consisting of 8 lines in iambic pentameter (ten syllables beats a line) is called an octave. 

Heterometric 

A heterometric stanza is used to describe a stanza in which every line varies in length. 

As you can see, there are quite a number of different types of stanzas that depend on the number of lines within a stanza and the rhyming pattern used. Understanding stanzas is important for a poet looking to use technique to realize their creative concepts. Think of stanzas as a tool to be used both in the creation of poetry as well as a way to understand poetry. 

Up Next

Types of Poems and Poem Structures

If you’re interested in learning more about poetic devices and techniques, check out our next article. We dive into different types of poems as well as various poem structures. We also take a look at various poem examples to better understand these concepts. 

Up Next: Types of Poems and Poem Structures →
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  • Kyle DeGuzman graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor of Science in Television, Film, & New Media. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado spending his time writing, filmmaking, and traveling.

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