What is a Stanza?

See Also: A Brief Glossary of Meter

The term stanza means “stopping place” in Italian. A stanza is a set of lines in a poem, set apart from other sets of lines by space. Each stanza comprises its own unit. The break/space between stanzas generally indicates a pause between thoughts, concepts or actions. In standard practice, most poems end a sentence at the end of stanza. It is important to remember, however, that there is no definitive rule that says this must happen. Of all writing forms, poetry is the most experimental. Rules of form get broken all the time.

Many poems are written without stanza breaks. These poems simply continue for however many lines the poem lasts. It is possible to call these poems single-stanza poems, but in practice few people worry about any rules or guidelines for stanzas in these cases.

Most poetry forms have rules regarding the length of stanzas. For example, a sestina has seven stanzas. The first six are six lines long and the last is three lines long. A sestina has many other rules involving repetition and order of words, but stanzas are the primary concern here.
Stanzas provide structure and format within a poem. In many ways they are the equivalent of a paragraph in a prose work. The use of stanzas can make a poem more visually appealing, and give the poem a means of division. Even poems without rhyme or meter will gain structure from the use of stanzas.

Stanzas can take many forms, most of which are unnamed. A few standard stanzas have stood the test of time. A couplet is a two-line stanza; if the two lines rhyme it is called a rhyming couplet. A tercet or triplet is a three-line stanza. A quatrain is a four-line stanza. Sometimes a stanza is called a verse or a stroph. The meaning is essentially the same, but stanza is the far more popular term.

The important thing to remember is that, except when you are using a set form, you have a great deal of leeway in how you use stanzas. You can set stanzas to break at the end of every sentence, every action, or every independent thought, for example. Unless a particular form demands it, you should simply divide your poems up in ways that make sense to you. A stanza can vary in number of lines and in line length or meter. Using multiple stanzas is simply a way to bring structure to your poem.

24 thoughts on “What is a Stanza?

  1. I have enjoyed reading about stanza. I have a deep passion form poems and poetry study. thank you very much for posting such user friendly explanition for stanza.

  2. Thank you sooo much! This explination made things much better:) I was a little confused at what the dictionary was meaning. thank you:)

  3. I am finding it difficult to ascertain the difference in definition of stanza and verse. Can you point me in a definitive direction either with a specific definition or by examples. Thank you.

  4. Thanks for the clarification! I’m doing a project for my seventh grade reading project. I had NO idea what a stanza was. Thanks again! (savvygirl)

  5. I have been writing poetry for the past ten or so years, and have learned that the best poems are those that are written from the “heart” verses the “brain.” However, without the brain, we would have a whole lot of grammar issues. :) The 30 poems in 30-day project is very common nowadays, although, the topics listed here on the site are extremely useful, thank you.

    Last August, a new site opened, “my site” and we are slowly getting the word out about the writing contest, and other features. It seems that so many new writers get caught up in the poetry.com trap :( which saddens me.

    Poetry that is well developed has a place in books, electronic journals, and online. I think that we need to stress to new writers, especially those interested in poetry, that writing poems is work–work, that deserves recognition, publication, and eventual income generating business.

    Writers take it from me, you can improve your writing, you can find a literary agent, and you can get paid for all of your efforts in writing. All you need to do is do the research. Find out who is accepting poetry, “small presses, electronic journals, online writing communities, writing competitions, publishers, and so on.

    After you locate a dozen or so places to submit your work too. Check the company out. Are they a mass produced publishing company? Do they expect money to publish your writing? With giving you nothing in return?

    Writers–Spring Fling Writing Competition 2008 has just been extended until July 4, 2008. You still have time to submit a poem, short story, or flash fiction entry! Go to OSWS: One Stop Write Shop, to learn more.

    Thank you,

    Sincerely,
    Katina M. Woodruff
    Writer for OSWS
    2007-2008

    Good Luck to all of you!

  6. Thanks for all these explanations. I’m just now getting into serious writing, so all of these help quite a bit. I kinda feel stupid not knowing what any of these are though, lol.

  7. hi
    thank you so much for your great explanation. i’m a persian girl and study english as a second language.
    your article help me so much
    thank you again

  8. can any body tell mehow can we do da rime scheme of this stanza !!!!
    example
    round,round,the roof doth run;
    And being ravished thus,
    Come i will drink a tun
    To my propertius
    it a b a b
    but i cant get it y and when do we put da c , d , e , and f !!!!!

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