Your basic poetry handbook
SUMMARY OF VERSE FORMS
Rhymes are indicated by lower case letters (thus a rhymes with a, b with b, etc). Lines that are repeated (more or less) unchanged are indicated by capital letters (thus A is the same line as A, etc) and subscript numerals where repeated lines also rhyme (so A1 is the same as A1 and also rhymes with A2, which is the same as A2, etc).
Ballad. Strict form consists of stanzas of four
iambic lines having alternately
four and three feet; 'fourteener' is the same arranged in rhyming couplets of seven iambic feet per line.
a b c b
A less strict form has four iambic lines of four stresses each.
a b a b or a b c b
Ballade. Conventionally three eight-line stanzas and an envoi of four lines, each ending
in the same refrain; three rhymes only; iambic
tetrameters (four stresses).
a b a b b c b C (x 3) : b c b C
A longer form has also been used
a b a b b c c d c D (x 3)
c c d c c D
The ballade royal has four eight-line stanzas with no envoi.
Blank verse. Iambic pentameters with no rhymes but may end with a couplet.
Chant Royal. Longer form of ballade; five stanzas of 11 lines and an envoi of five
lines; extended rhyme scheme with five rhymes.
a b a b c c d d e d E (x 5)
d d e d E
Clerihew. An epigram in which the first line includes the name of the person who is
the subject of the verse. The meter and line length are variable.
a a b b
Elegiac stanza. Stanza of four
pentameters, also called the 'heroic quatrain'.
a b a b
English hymn metres. Identified by the number of syllables per line and by the rhyme
Common metre 8 6 8 6 a b a b
Long metre 8 8 8 8 a b a b
Short metre 6 6 8 6 a b c b
Englyn. A syllabic scheme in four lines. The first line has 10 syllables, the sixth of which is the rhyme for the three other lines of six, seven and seven syllables respectively.
Haiku. Three lines of five, seven and five syllables respectively.
'Hiawatha'. From Longfellow's poem. Trochaic lines with four stresses; without rhyme but with much hypnotically insistent repetition of words and phrases.
'In Memoriam'. From Tennyson's poem. Variant of ballad form consisting of four
a b b a
Limerick. Single stanza of five lines, generally consisting of consecutively three,
three, two, two and three amphibrachs; the final amphibrach may be replaced with an
a a b b a
Naga-uta. Alternating lines of five and seven syllables, ending with an extra seven-syllable line.
Octave stanza (ottava rima). Stanzas of eight
pentameters. [See Keats'
Isabella, Byron's Don Juan.]
a b a b a b c c
The Sicilian octave has the same alternate rhyme throughout rather than a final couplet.
'Omar Khayyam' or rubai (plural rubaiyat) From Edward Fitzgerald's rendering of
The Rubaiyat. Stanzas of four iambic
a a b a
Pantoum. Any number of quatrains, the second and fourth lines of the first stanza
becoming the first and third lines of the second stanza and so on until the last stanza, in which the
third and first lines of the first stanza become respectively the second and final lines.
A1 B1 A2 B2
B1 C1 B2 C2
C1 D1 C2 D2
. . .
Y1 Z1 Y2 Z2
Z1 A2 Z2 A1
Rhyme royal. Stanzas of seven
pentameters. Used in Chaucer's Troilus and Cressida.
a b a b b c c
Rondeau. Thirteen lines plus a four syllable refrain—the first half of the first
line—used twice, arranged in three unequal stanzas; usually two main rhymes, plus third rhyme in
refrain; iambic lines with four stresses.
a a b b a
a a b c
a a b b a c
The ten-line rondeau consists of a sestet and a quatrain, each followed by a single word refrain, which should be the first word of the poem.
a b b a a b R
a b b a R
Rondeau redoublé. Five
quatrains and a final
cinquain, the first stanza providing
the repeated last lines of the four successive stanzas. The final line is shorter. Only two rhymes
A1 B1 A2 B2
a b a A1
a b a B1
a b a A2
a b a B2
a b a b R
Rondel. Fourteen lines, often arranged in three stanzas, the first two lines being
repeated as lines 7 and 8, 13 and 14; two rhymes.
A B b a
a b A B
a b b a A B
A 13-line version omits one of the two final lines.
Rondelet. A single-stanza poem of seven lines, the A line being shorter
(iambic dimeters) than
the others (iambic tetrameters).
A b A a b b A
Roundel. Variant of the rondeau in three stanzas, the refrain of the first half
line being repeated at the end of the first and third stanzas within the two-rhyme pattern.
a b a B
b a b
a b a B
The Chaucerian roundel has a three-line first stanza
A b b
a b A
a b b A
Sapphic. Four-line stanza of three pentameters (each of two trochees, a dactyl and two trochees), and a fourth line of a dactyl and a trochee.
Sestina. Six stanzas of six lines; the last word of
each line in the first stanza is used to end one line in each of the other
stanzas in a strict permutated fashion. (See also Venus and Adonis)
Stanza 1 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ,6
Stanza 2 6, 1, 5, 2, 4, 3
Stanza 3 3, 6, 4, 1, 2, 5
Stanza 4 5, 3, 2, 6, 1, 4
Stanza 5 4, 5, 1, 3, 6, 2
Stanza 6 2, 4, 6, 5, 3, 1
The envoi uses all six keywords, two to each of three lines, one in the middle and one at the end.
Line 1 2, 5
Line 2 4, 3
Line 3 6, 1
Sonnet. Classically fourteen
pentameters, although the rhyme scheme can vary.
Some recent 'sonnet' writing adopts different line lengths and metric patterns.
The Petrarchan/Italian version is divided into an octave (eight lines) and sestet (six lines), between which there is traditionally a break.
a b b a a b b a c d e c d e
a b b a a b b a c d c d c d
The Elizabethan/Shakespearean version has three quatrains and a concluding or summarising couplet.
a b a b c d c d e f e f g g
The Spenserian sonnet uses fewer rhymes.
a b a b b c b c c d c d e e
Spenserian stanza. Stanza of eight iambic pentameters followed by an Alexandrine
hexameter). Invented for The Faerie Queen. [See also Keats' The Eve of St Agnes and
Byron's Childe Harold.]
a b a b b c b c c
Tanka. Five lines of five, seven, five, seven and seven syllables respectively.
Terza rima. Stanzas of three
pentameters, concluding with a
a b a
b c b
c d c
d e d
. . .
x y x
y z y z
Triolet. Single stanza of eight short lines of varying length; two rhymes. First
line repeated as fourth, first two as seventh and last.
A B a A a b A B
'Venus and Adonis'. From Shakespeare's poem. Six-line stanza of
pentameters or other metres.
a b a b c c
Villanelle. Five three-line stanzas, followed by four-line stanza; two rhymes;
iambic lines with four stresses. First line is repeated as 6th, 12th and 18th; third line as 9th,
15th and 19th.
A1 b A2
a b A1
a b A2
a b A1
a b A2
a b A1 A2
Villonesque. See ballade.