How to Write Poems – Chapter 5: The Repetition of Structures

Contents | Chapter 6: Introduction to Part Two

In this chapter, we will consider structures that repeat. The most common structure repetition occurs with ideas, stanzas, and refrains.

Closed form poetry is poetry that follows a previously used design, which may prescribe the meter, rhyme scheme, stanzas, and/or number of lines. Some common closed forms include the sonnet, the limerick, and the ballade. Closed form poetry may prescribe a certain type of stanza, which is a group of lines that repeats the same structure throughout the poem. A line is a group of words on one horizontal row. A refrain is a phrase that is repeated at regular points within the poem, often at the end of each stanza.

Open form poetry is poetry that doesn’t follow any previously created form. Similarly, a stanza form that is created for, and used in, only one poem is called a nonce stanza.

In Hebrew poetry, such as that in the Old Testament of the Bible, the repetition of ideas was used as a poetic device. For example, in the book of Isaiah, chapter 33, we see the content (the ideas) repeated in another form (different words). The English below was translated from the Hebrew for the New American Standard Bible. Verse 10 has the same idea in three versions.

Isaiah 33:5-10:

(5) The LORD is exalted,

for He dwells on high…

(6) And He will be the stability of your times,

A wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge…

(7) Behold, their brave men cry in the streets,

The ambassadors of peace weep bitterly.

(8) The highways are desolate,

the traveler has ceased…

(9) The land mourns and pines away,

Lebanon is shamed and withers…

(10) “Now I will arise,” says the LORD,

“Now I will be exalted,

now I will be lifted up.

Another type of structural repetition involves the repetition of stanzas. (Blocks of poetry that don’t repeat exactly are often called verse paragraphs.) Stanzas are identified by the number of lines they contain. We can also write the rhyme scheme of the stanzas. A rhyme scheme is the layout of the rhyming words at the ends of the lines. The lines containing end words that rhyme are shown with the same letter. Each letter usually represents one line of verse. Lines labeled with the letter “x” don’t need to rhyme with any other lines. For example, the rhyme scheme of an Italian quatrain is abba, which means that the first and fourth lines rhyme, and the second and third lines rhyme. Below are the names of the stanzas having one to ten lines:

One line: monostich.
Two lines: distich (or couplet). Heroic couplets are rhymed couplets in iambic pentameter.
Three lines: tercet. Tercets may rhyme aaa, axa, aax, or xaa. Tercets may also be linked to form the terza rima, like this: aba, bcb, cdc, dfd, etc.
Four lines: quatrain. Sicilian quatrain: abab. Italian (envelope) quatrain: abba. A quatrain can be composed of two couplets: aabb. In the ballad quatrain, the second and fourth lines rhyme: xaxa.
Five lines: cinquain.
Six lines: sestet.
Seven lines: septet. Rhyme royal: ababbcc.
Eight lines: octave. Ottava rima: abababcc.
Nine lines: nonet.
Ten lines: dizain.

Isometric stanzas contain lines having equal numbers of feet, while heterometric stanzas contain lines having differing numbers of feet.

Contents | Chapter 6: Introduction to Part Two