Throughout the history of English poetry, writers have experimented with a wide variety of stanza forms. Some of these are better than others. For example, the ballad or hymn stanza that contains four lines is known as a quatrain. Other common stanza forms include tercets, quintains, and sestets.
Although rhyming poetry is prevalent (and popular), today, most contemporary poets use free verse. Therefore, when seeking out heptastiches in contemporary poetry, readers shouldn’t be surprised to find poems composed without the use of end-rhymes or meter.
A heptastich is a seven-line stanza. Depending on the poet, poem, style, period, and content, this seven-line stanza might be accompanied by other stanzas of varying lengths, be written in free verse, follow a specific rhyme scheme, or stand alone as a short seven-line poem.
Below are three examples of poems in which poets utilize seven-line stanzas. As readers will discover, it is possible to utilize this stanza form in many different ways.
Common Stanza Forms
Below are the most common lengths poets use when composing stanzas:
- Couplet: two-line stanza
- Tercet: three-line stanza
- Quatrain: four-line stanza
- Quintain: five-line stanza
- Sestet: six-line stanza
- Octave: eight-line stanza
- Sonnet: fourteen-line stanza
Examples of Heptastiches in Poetry
‘Beale Street Love’ by Langston Hughes was first published in 1926. It is appreciated for its musical and rhythmic qualities. It is also a heptastich, meaning that it contains seven lines. Throughout the poem, the poet includes a series of images and examples of figurative language in order to depict violence, struggle, and African-American culture during Langston Hughes’ lifetime. Here are the first four lines:
Is a brown man’s fist
With hard knuckles
Crushing the lips,
The poem contains three more lines that describe, from a woman’s perspective, her submission to violence at the “brown man’s” hand. Its dark and unforgettable poem does not need more than its three lines, none of which contain more than five words, to depict an important image.
Discover more Langston Hughes poems.
In this well-known poem, the poet describes the changing seasons and the way that they shift a speaker’s outlook on life and his relationship with God. The poem is divided into seven stanzas, each of which contains seven lines. The lines follow a rhyme scheme of ABABCCB. Here are the seven lines of the first stanza:
How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean
Are Thy returns! ev’n as the flow’rs in Spring,
To which, besides their own demean
The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring;
Grief melts away
Like snow in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.
Discover more George Herbert poems.
‘The Swan’ is an interesting poem that utilizes three stanzas. The first two are sestets, meaning they contain six lines, and the final line is a heptastich, meaning it contains seven lines. This is an excellent example of how a poet might utilize a heptastich, among other stanza forms. Here is the final stanza:
Into the windless dusk,
Where in mist great towers stand
Guarding a lonely strand,
That is bodiless and dim,
He speeds with easy stride;
And I would go beside,
Till the low brown hills divide
At last, for me and him.
Throughout this stanza, the poet uses the slightly unusual rhyme scheme of ABBCDDDC.
Explore more John Gould Fletcher poems.
A heptastich, or seven-line stanza (which is also sometimes known as a septet), is used when a poet is looking to conform to a specific rhyme scheme or allude to the work of another poet. Seven lines might also feel like the correct format for another reason. For example, the symbology associated with the number seven, etc.
A four-line stanza is known as a quatrain. Quatrains are perhaps the most popular stanza form in the English language. They are used in all types of poetry but are very common in ballads.
A three-line stanza is known as a tercet. Tercets are one of the most popular stanza forms in the history of English poetry. Three-line stanzas can be found in all genres, periods, and styles of poetry.
A sonnet has fourteen lines total. Often in analyses, sonnets are broken down into smaller parts. For example, an octave and a sestet or two quatrains and a sestet. In Shakespearean sonnets, the final two lines (the concluding couplet) are often of great importance and therefore divided from the rest of the text.
In poetry, the word “octave” refers to a stanza that contains eight lines. The word is also used to refer to the first part of a sonnet. For example, the first eight lines of an Italian or Petrarchan sonnet follow the rhyme scheme of ABBAABBA.
Related Literary Terms
- Burns Stanza: named for Scottish poet Robert Burns who popularized its use. It is a six-line stanza form that uses a rhyme scheme of AAABAB, and lines of tetrameter and dimeter.
- Chaucerian Stanza: also known as rhyme royal, is a stanza form introduced by English poet Geoffrey Chaucer. It’s seven lines long and uses the rhyme scheme ABABBCC.
- Hymn Stanza: uses a rhyme scheme of ABCB and alternates between iambic trimeter and iambic tetrameter.
- Octave: comes from the Latin word meaning “eighth part.” It is an eight-line stanza or poem.
- Onegin Stanza: a stanza form invented and popularized by Alexander Pushkin in his 1825-1832 novel, Eugene Onegin.
- Verse Paragraph: a section of poetry that resembles a prose paragraph, that which is found in novel writing and short stories.
- Ottava Rima: used to describe a particular type of stanza in poetry. It uses eight iambic lines and follows a rhyme scheme of ABABABCC.
- Read: Verse Forms
- Read: Everything You Need to Know about Rhyme Schemes in Poetry
- Watch: The Pleasure of Poetic Pattern