A hymn or hymnal stanza, also known as a ballad stanza, is a common metrical and rhyming pattern that has been used by many different poets. Hymn stanzas contain four lines, making them quatrains. These lines are partially rhymed and unrhymed. The first and third lines of the stanzas are unrhymed while the second and fourth are rhymed.
Sometimes these rhymes are perfect while other times they are closer to half-rhymes. Half-rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse.
A hymn stanza is even better known for the metrical pattern. The lines alternate between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. The first of these, iambic tetrameter, refers to the number of beats per line and which of the beats, or syllables, are the strongest or stressed. The first of each pair of beats is unstressed and the second is stressed. These are known as iambs. with iambic tetrameter, there are four sets of these unstressed and stressed beats per line.
Iambic trimeter keeps the same arrangement of unstressed and stressed syllables but decreases them. Every other line has only three sets of two beats rather than four.
Examples of Hymn Stanzas in Poetry
Example #1 The Trees like Tassels — hit — and swung by Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson’s poetry is more often than not written in ballad stanzas. There are many good examples of this type of stanza to be discovered in her work. take for example these two stanzas from ‘The Trees like Tassels — hit — and swung’:
The Trees like Tassels — hit — and swung —
There seemed to rise a Tune
From Miniature Creatures
Accompanying the Sun —
Far Psalteries of Summer —
Enamoring the Ear
They never yet did satisfy —
Remotest — when most fair
It is quite easy to spot in these two stanzas how Dickinson makes use of the meter and rhyme scheme. As mentioned above, sometimes these stanzas make use of half-rhymes rather than full rhymes
Read more poetry by Emily Dickinson.
Example #2 The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Coleridge is another poet who often made use of the ballad or hymnal stanza form. Take a look at these liens from his masterpiece, ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’:
The very deep did rot – Oh Christ!
That ever this should be.
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs,
Upon the slimy sea.
There are some moments in the poem in which the number of syllables per line is altered. But that can still mean overall that the poem is written in this particular form.
Read more poems from Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Example #3 Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe
The liens of ‘Annabel Lee’ are another good example of how a poet can maintain one aspect of the hymn stanza form but change another. Here are a few of the best-known lines:
I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven
Coveted her and me.
The rhyme scheme is ABCD, sometimes with added rhymes after, and the lines vary in and out of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter.
Read more of Edgar Allan Poe’s poems.
Example #4 The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde
This long poem is Wilde’s best-known piece of verse. He was inspired to write it during his two years that he spent imprisoned at Reading Gaol on the charge of gross indecency. The moving and disturbing poem tells the story of a real man who “killed the thing he loved,” his wife and has to hang for it. Here is the famous refrain:
And all men kill the thing they love,
By all let this be heard
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!
Rather than strictly follow the four-line variant of the ballad or hymn stanza, Wilde uses six lines per stanza, known as sestets. He uses perfect rhymes throughout the poem, creating a sing-song-life melody that emphasizes the very difficult subject matter.
Read more poetry by Oscar Wilde.