A Spenserian stanza is a poetic form that has been used since the 16th century. It is named after the Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser. It is typically composed in rhyming couplets, with the final line forming a rhyming triplet.
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Spenserian Stanza Definition
A Spenserian stanza is a type of poem composed of nine lines, with the first eight lines written in iambic pentameter and the last line written as an Alexandrine. The rhyme scheme of a Spenserian stanza is ABABBCBCC, with the middle six lines linking together through the use of three interlocking rhymes.
The Spenserian stanza was named after 16th-century poet Edmund Spenser, who first popularized the form in his epic poem ‘The Faerie Queene.’ He wrote most of his works in this form and it has become associated with his name.
In addition to Spenser’s work, the Spenserian stanza has been used by many other poets, including Lord Byron and John Keats.
Origins of the Spenserian Stanza
The Spenserian stanza is a poetic form that originated in the 16th century and was popularized by the English poet Edmund Spenser. It is an elaboration of the traditional English sonnet and consists of nine lines in iambic pentameter followed by a single line in iambic hexameter. This final line is referred to as an Alexandrine and is often used to provide a conclusion or sum up the poem’s content.
The poetic form is thought to have been inspired by Old French ballade forms that use a rhyme scheme of ABABBCBC and the Italian ottava rima form.
The stanza has been widely used by poets over the centuries and can be found in the works of William Wordsworth, John Keats, George Herbert, and many others.
Examples of Spenserian Stanzas
The Lotos-Eaters by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
‘The Lotos-Eaters’ is a wonderful example of how influential Spenser’s stanza form has been throughout the history of English poetry. The poem starts with the lines:
“Courage!” he said, and pointed toward the land,
“This mounting wave will roll us shoreward soon.”
In the afternoon they came unto a land
In which it seemed always afternoon.
All round the coast the languid air did swoon,
Breathing like one that hath a weary dream.
Full-faced above the valley stood the moon;
And like a downward smoke, the slender stream
Along the cliff to fall and pause and fall did seem.
Within these lines, the poet’s use of the Spenserian stanza form comes through very clearly, particularly with his use of a consistent rhyme scheme that conforms to the pattern.
Read more Alfred Lord Tennyson poems.
The Eve of St. Agnes by John Keats
‘The Eve of St. Agnes’ is a famous Keats poem that is divided into nine-line stanzas and follows the traditional pattern of a Spenserian stanza. The first stanza reads:
St. Agnes’ Eve—Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers, while he told
His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
Like pious incense from a censer old,
Seem’d taking flight for heaven, without a death,
Past the sweet Virgin’s picture, while his prayer he saith.
Here, the rhyme scheme comes through quite clearly, with end words like “cold” and “fold” perfectly rhyming. The concluding “CC” rhyme with “death” and “saith” also comes through very clearly. Often in these poems, there are moments in which poets choose to use what is known as a half-rhyme. This means that the words partially rhyme but are not “perfect rhymes.” “Was” and “grass” in line one is one such example.
Discover more John Keats poems.
Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage by Lord Byron
This is yet another very famous Romantic poem that utilizes the Spenserian stanza form. The first stanza reads:
Not in those climes where I have late been straying,
Though Beauty long hath there been matchless deemed,
Not in those visions to the heart displaying
Forms which it sighs but to have only dreamed,
Hath aught like thee in truth or fancy seemed:
Nor, having seen thee, shall I vainly seek
To paint those charms which varied as they beamed—
To such as see thee not my words were weak;
To those who gaze on thee, what language could they speak?
The poet conformed the stanza to Spenser’s form quite closely, with only a few deviations.
Explore more Lord Byron poems.
Why do Poets use Spenserian Stanzas?
The Spenserian stanza is often used to express deep emotions and poetic drama, with its slow rhythm creating a sense of suspense and anticipation. It is often seen as a more complex form of poetry than other stanzas and thus can be used to convey complex ideas in a concise manner.
The Spenserian stanza is also known for its flexible rhyme scheme, which allows for more variety in sound and rhythm than the traditional sonnet.
The English poet Edmund Spenser is known for writing one of the greatest poems in the English language, ‘The Faerie Queen.’ He is also credited with inventing the Spenserian stanza form.
The Spenserian sonnet form is another poetic form that Spenser is credited with popularizing. It uses a rhyme scheme of ABABBCBCCDCDEE.
The term “Spenserian” is used to refer to anything that was inspired by the work of Edmund Spenser, a 16th-century English poet who is known for writing sonnets and for composing the allegorical epic, ‘The Faerie Queene.’
Related Literary Terms
- Shakespearean Sonnet: follows a rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFGG and uses iambic pentameter.
- Stanza: is one of the most important fundamental elements of a poem. It is the unit of writing poems are composed of.
- Tail Rhyme Stanza: refers to a stanza where the poet repeats a rhyme intermittently. It usually occurs in between rhyming couplets.
- Verse: a term that refers to various parts of poetry, such as a single line of poetry, a stanza, or the entire poem.
- Burns Stanza: is 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 diameter.