Monostitch

mah-no-stehch

A monostitch is a poem that’s made up of one line of verse. It can be as long as the poet wants it to be, but it’s restricted to one line.

E.g. This line by Guillaume Apollinaire is a monostitch: "And the single string of the sea trumpets."

Throughout history, writers have used monostitches in different ways. Many poems, in a variety of styles, utilize stanzas that consist of a single line. But, far fewer are only made up of one line entirely. 

The first example of a modern monostitch poem was published in 1894 by Valery Bryusov. In English (translated by Babette Deutsch and Avraham Yarmolinsky), the line reads: 

Oh, cover thy pale feet!

This single, engaging line of verse has been interpreted in a variety of ways. In fact, much of the power of monostitches in poetry hinges on their simplicity and the imagery they convey.



Monostitch in Poetry Definition

A monostitch is a poem that only has one line. Although they’re only a few words long, monostitches usually evoke multiple interpretations and can convey more than one feeling at a time. 

The best examples are those that inspire readers to envision what exactly they’re describing and in which context they are being conveyed. They’re similar, in some ways, to haiku and this poetic form’s ability to say a great deal in only a few words. It does require the reader to fill in some of the blanks, but this is a process that many poetry lovers enjoy.

Examples of Monostitches 

“And the single string” by Guillaume Apollinaire

This one-line poem, or monostitch, by famed French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, starts with the words “And the single string.” It reads in full: 

And the single string of the sea trumpets.

This, like much of Guillaume Apollinaire’s verse, is hard to interpret and suggests a variety of meanings. (This is perhaps enhanced by the fact that the time was translated into English from the original French (in this case by Wiliam Meredith.)

Read more Guillaume Apollinaire poems

“If you shed tears” by Rabindranath Tagore

Here is a single monostitch from Rabindranath Tagore’s The Stray Birds, published in 1916: 

If you shed tears when you miss the sun, you also miss the stars.

This commonly quoted line reminds readers of the importance of appreciating what you have and not spending one’s life mourning what you don’t. Tears shed for the sun will obscure the stars, the poet essentially writes. 

Explore more Rabindranath Tagore poems

“The corners” by K. S. Venkatramani

This is a lesser-known example of a monostitch by K. S. Venkatramani. It was published in Paper Boats in 1921 and reads: 

the corners cut paper boat I float again.

As is seen in the above examples, writers can take a variety of approaches when writing single lines of poetry. Some may want to make their intentions and meaning immediately clear, while others may relish the variety of interpretations that can spring from only a few lines.

Why Do Poets Use Monostitches? 

There are a variety of reasons a poet might use a monostitch. They may have an important message to convey that only needs a few lines to represent it. Or, they may want to enhance the importance of their message by containing it within a single line. The fewer words, the more important those that the poet chose to include. 

This means that monostitches are usually perfected to the extreme. There is no extraneous language or imagery. This allows readers to dig into what the poet did include as much as they want to. Each word, no matter how small or seemingly unimportant, may change the poem’s meaning entirely. 

How to Write a Monostitch? 

While it might seem simple, monostitches can be quite complicated to write (depending on the writer’s intentions). If you’re hoping to use a specific meter or internal rhyme, you’ll have to spend more time on the formatting and thinking of rhyming words (or words that conform to a specific metrical pattern). 

But, if you’re writing the monostitch in free verse, you’ll have and freedom to determine which words go where.

To write a monostitch, you need to have a specific scene, message, emotion, or something else that you would like to describe in only one line of poetry. Your line can be as long as you want it to be, as Walt Whitman demonstrates in his Leaves of Grass, but it should still only be one line long. 

The difficulty of the monostitch mostly hinges on how important every word is. In longer poems, writers can get away with not perfecting the order of every single word and line, but monostitches leave no room for error. One poor word choice and your entire meaning may dissipate. 

This means that you should spend as much time as you can choosing the perfect words for your monostitch, removing those you don’t need, and figuring out what the ideal order for those words is. 

FAQs 

Why are monostitches important? 

Monostitches are one of the less-commonly written forms of poetry, but they are still important. They are often used to convey a deceptively simple image or experience in only a few words. 

What kind of poem is a monostitch? 

A monostitch poem is a poem with a single line. That one line can be as long as you want it to be and include anything the poet wants. Most monostitches are around 6-12 words long and are focused on depicting a single image, emotion, or perspective

What do you call a poem with one line? 

A poem with one line is known as a monostitch. Sometimes, writers and readers refer to them as mono-line poems or single-line poems. Each of these names means the same thing. 


Related Literary Terms 

  • Haiku: a three-line Japanese poem that follows a syllable pattern of 5-7-5.
  • Ghazal: a type of poem that is constructed with couplets, repeated words, and rhyming words.
  • Block Form: used to describe a poem that is not separated into stanzas or verse paragraphs. These poems are contained within one “block” of text. 
  • Quatrain: a verse form that is made up of four lines with fifteen different possible rhyme schemes.
  • Open Couplet: a pair of lines in poetry, the first of which is enjambed. The first line does not conclude, running into the second line.


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