The Blog of John Hewitt

Writing tercet and triad poetry

Tercet Stanzas

The tercet is a poetry form with Italian roots. One of the most famous examples of the form is Dante’s The Divine Comedy (aff). At heart, this is a stanza form more than a form for a complete poem. In most cases, multiple stanzas are combined to create a single poem. The poem may be be a string of several tercets. In other cases, the tercet is one component in a poem composed of other stanzas such as couplets or quatrains.

The Divine Comedy was composed of three line stanzas. Every first and third line ends with a rhyme. This is the classic version of the form. It is a three-lined poetic stanza in which the first and third lines rhyme. The second line is blank (unrhymed) verse.

Today, we call this rhymed form an enclosed tercet because the two rhymed lines enclose the blank line. Most modern tercets employ unrhymed or blank verse. An even more stringent form of the tercet is the Sicilian Tercet. The Sicilian Tercet incorporates the enclosed form, but also requires that the poet write in iambic pentameter.

The tercet is rarely a complete poem in itself. Instead, poets write multiple stanzas to create longer works. A famous English example of a poem using tercet stanzas is Percy Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind, which includes:

The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

triads

The triad is a specific form of tercet. The origins of the triad are Irish and Welsh. A triad is a poem composed of three tercets. It is a consideration of three things and their effect on a person. Welsh versions of the Arthurian legends make heavy use of this form.

Here is a sample triad that I have written:


Cold Comfort

My favorite glass folds upward.
Three curved echoes.
Growing large enough to hold comfort.

My blender can spin ice to powder.
Gentle as snow in my hair.
Eager to provide relief.

Parrot Bay and pina colada mix.
Turn snow to sweet cold liquor.
And I can smile now.

The triad is one of the lesser know poetry forms, but it is an enjoyable outlet for expression. You can add as much challenge as you wish. You can simply write in three-line stanzas or you can use iambic pentameter and enclosed tercets if you wish to increase the writing challenge.

Writing elegies and memory poems

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? (Hamlet, V.i)

Writing an Elegy

Poetry has, from its beginning days onward, been a tool of remembrance. From Homer’s Iliad through Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade to Pinsky’s 9/11, poetry has been used to remember people and events, both heroic and tragic. Poems of this type are called elegies.

As a form, the elegy is very flexible. The term elegy should not be confused with the similar term, eulogy, which is a speech given at a funeral. An elegy is a poem of mourning and reflection. The original elegies were written in elegiac meter. Elegiac meter consists of couplets composed of a line of dactylic hexameter followed by a line of dactylic pentameter. That traditional meter (we will discuss meter in greater depth soon) is no longer required for a poem to be an elegy. All that is required is that it remembers a person’s death or other tragic event such as a battle or a natural disaster.

Poems of this type tend to carry a lot of emotion. The feelings one has about a significant event, especially a tragic one, can be complex and even contradictory. You might mourn a friend or relative but still be angered by the choices they made. You might admire the heroism of battle but recognize its flaws. Poetry is one way to work through those emotions.

When approaching material of this sort, it can be emotionally draining but also cathartic. Many people carry around these emotions and thoughts without ever being able to express them or consciously deal with them. As a poet, you can at least put your thoughts on paper, which allows you to process those thoughts and come to some sort of emotional closure.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Write an elegy about a person or event that is meaningful to you. You don’t necessarily have to approach the most tragic event in your life. Don’t try to take on an event that is still too difficult for you to deal with. Look for something that you can handle.

Today’s Recommended Poet

Dean Young is a poet whose influence seems to increase with each new work. His poetry tends toward the surreal, but is always insightful and often genuinely funny. His poem Elegy on a Toy Piano is written for fellow poet Kenneth Koch, one of the Twentieth Century’s true greats. Don’t hesitate to read Kenneth Koch, but because my recommendations are based on working poets, please try Dean Young first. He’s still alive and worthy of a long look.

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