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Septet

A septet is any seven-line stanza in poetry. These stanzas are uncommon and sometimes associated with the work of Geoffrey Chaucer, who pioneered a pattern and structure known as rhyme royal. 

The septet, as Geoffrey Chaucer used it, was later utilized by other important poets. For example, Edmund Spenser, in his ‘Hymn of Heavenly Beauty.’ A variation of the form appeared in Milton’s ‘On the Death of a Fair Infant Dying of a Cough.’

Septet definition and examples


Septet in Poetry Definition

The septet is a stanza of verse that uses seven lines. These lines might be written in free verse or utilize a specific pattern. They could touch on any topic the poet is interested in and are not confined to a specific genre or movement. The best-known examples, as noted above, come from poets like Geoffrey Chaucer. Take a look at this stanza from his ‘Parlement of Foules:’

First telleth it when Scipion was come 

In Affrike, how he meeteth Massinisse, Masinissa 

That him for joye in armes hath ynome; taken 

Thanne telleth he hir speeche, and of the blisse

That was bitwixe hem til that day gan misse; 

And how his auncestre Affrican, so dere 

Gan in his sleep that night to him apper


Examples of Septets in Poetry 

Ode to a Butterfly by Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Ode to a Butterfly’ is made up of six seven-line stanzas, or septets. These stanzas follow a rhyme scheme of ABABCCB, the same pattern used by George Herbert in his ‘The Flower.’ The poem is a thoughtful meditation on one of nature’s daintiest creations—the butterfly. Higginson glorifies this tiny insect by using several metaphors and symbols. Here is a stanza: 

Thou spark of life that wavest wings of gold,

Thou songless wanderer mid the songful birds,

With Nature’s secrets in thy tints unrolled

Through gorgeous cipher, past the reach of words,

Yet dear to every child

In glad pursuit beguiled,

Living his unspoiled days mid flowers and flocks and herds!

Similar to how Chaucer composed his rhyme royal stanzas, Higginson used examples of iambic pentameter (as well as iambic trimeter) within this text. The first four lines are in iambic pentameter, and the next two are in iambic trimeter. The final line of each stanza is written in the far rarer iambic hexameter

Discover more Thomas Wentworth Higginson poems

To a Friend with a Religious Vocation by Elizabeth Jennings

To a Friend with a Religious Vocation’ by Elizabeth Jennings is a four stanza poem that uses septets. The poem’s speaker discusses their religious convictions and compares them to a friend’s beliefs. The first stanza begins with: 

Thinking of your vocation, I am filled

With thoughts of my own lack of one. I see

Within myself no wish to breed or build

Or take the three vows ringed by poverty.

[…]

Discover more Elizabeth Jennings poems

The Flower by George Herbert

Herbert’s ‘The Flower’ is a seven stanza poem, each stanza of which is a septet. The poem is written in the rhyme scheme of ABABCCB, which is reminiscent of the pattern used in Chaucer’s rhyme royal. The poem describes how the changing seasons impact a speaker’s outlook on life and relationship with God. Here is 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.

Read more George Herbert poems.

The Septet and Rhyme Royal 

Rhyme royal is a stanza form associated with 14th century English poet Geoffrey Chaucer. It was used in his works Troilus and Criseyde and The Parlement of Foules. He went on to use the form in four of the stories within the Canterbury Tales. 

The stanza, as the name suggests, contains seven lines. They are written in iambic pentameter. This means that each line contains a total of ten syllables. These ten syllables can be divided into five sets of two, the first beat and each pairing are unstressed, and the second is stressed. The stanzas also followed the rhyme scheme of ABABBCC. 

Take a look at this stanza from ‘Troilus and Criseyde.’ 

The double sorwe of Troilus to tellen,

That was the king Priamus sone of Troye,

In lovinge, how his aventures fellen

Fro wo to wele, and after out of Ioye,

My purpos is, er that I parte fro ye.

Thesiphone, thou help me for tendyte

Thise woful vers, that wepen as I wryte!

In other examples of this poetic form, the authors chose to separate the stanzas out into a tercet and two couplets or a quatrain and a tercet. These two different forms would, in theory, follow the same rhyme scheme. 

Rhyme royal was also used by King James I of Scotland in his The Kingis Quair, by John Legate in Fall of Princess, and by Robert Henryson in various poems, like Testament of Cresseid. 

FAQs 

What is a sestet in poetry?

The term “sestet” is usually used to describe a six-line stanza of poetry. But, it should only be used to describe the last six-line section of a Petrarchan or Italian sonnet. This sonnet section uses various rhyme schemes, like CDCDCD and CDECDE. 

What does a septet mean in literature?

In literature, a “septet” is a seven-line stanza of poetry. This stanza form has no other requirements aside from containing seven lines. It can use any rhyme scheme or metrical pattern and speak on any subject.

What is an octave in a poem?

An octave is an eight-line stanza of poetry. The term is also used to describe the first eight lines of an Italian or Petrarchan sonnet.

What is a quintet poem?

A quintet, or quintain, is a five-line stanza of poetry. It is far less common than a quatrain (four-line stanza) or a tercet (three-line stanza) but is used more often than a septet. 


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. 


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