Tail rhymes were at peak popularity in French and English during and after the Middle Ages. The tail rhyme stanza can take many forms, some containing fewer lines. One of these forms is the Burns stanza, named for Robert Burns, who utilized it throughout his verse.
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Tail Rhyme Stanza Definition
The tail rhyme stanza form uses intermittent rhyming lines that do not rhyme with their adjacent lines. This is seen most often in stanzas of at least six lines. For example, the rhyme scheme of AABCCB. The “B” rhyme does not rhyme with the “A” or “C” lines (its adjacent lines) but does rhyme intermittently with the other “B” rhyme. For an example of an even simpler version of this pattern, see ‘The Conquerors’ by Paul Laurence Dunbar below.
Examples of Tail Rhyme Stanza in Poetry
Ballad of Agincourt by Michael Drayton
This piece, first published in 1605, is one of the best and easiest to understand examples of poems that uses tail rhyme stanzas. The first stanza follows a rhyme scheme of AAABCCCB. The “B” lines are the tail lines. They follow a set of rhyming lines, in this case, the “AAA” lines and the “CCC” lines. Here is the stanza:
Fair stood the wind for France,
When we our sails advance,
Nor now to prove our chance,
Longer will tarry;
But putting to the main,
At Caux, the mouth of Seine,
With all his martial train,
Landed King Harry.
The end words “France,” “advance,” and “chance” rhyme (AAA), and the end words “main,” “Seine,” and “train” (CCC) rhyme. Between these tercets is a “B” rhyme, “tarry.” It is repeated at the end of the stanza with “Harry.”
Read more Michael Drayton poems.
The Conquerors by Paul Laurence Dunbar
‘The Conquerors’ is a great example of this particular stanza form. It follows a rhyme scheme of AABAAB. This is the simplest possible version of a tail rhyme stanza. The first stanza reads:
Round the wide earth, from the red field your valor has won,
Blown with the breath of the far-speaking gun,
Goes the word.
Bravely you spoke through battle cloud heavy and dun.
Tossed though the speech toward the mist-hidden sun,
The world heard.
Here, Dunbar rhymes “won” and “gun,” the first two “A” rhymes, and then inserts the “B” rhyme— “word.” This is followed by two more “A” rhymes “dun” and “sun” then a repetition of the tail rhyme, “heard.”
Explore more Paul Laurence Dunbar poems.
Tennyson’s ‘The Lady of Shallot’ provides readers with a longer example of a tail rhyme stanza. It is also a good example of a tail rhyme stanza that does not use couplets. The stanzas follow a pattern of AAAABCCCB. The first stanza reads:
Willows whiten, aspens shiver.
The sunbeam showers break and quiver
In the stream that runneth ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.
Readers will immediately note that the second tail line, “The Lady of Shalott,” is repeated as a refrain. It appears at the end of every stanza.
Discover more Alfred Lord Tennyson poems.
To a Louse by Robert Burns
In ‘To a Louse,’ readers can find a variation of the tail rhyme stanza usually referred to as the “Burns Stanza.” It is a six-line stanza form that uses a rhyme scheme of AAABAB, and lines of tetrameter and dimeter. Here is the first stanza of the poem:
Ha! whaur ye gaun, ye crowlin ferlie?
Your impudence protects you sairly;
I canna say but ye strunt rarely,
Owre gauze and lace;
Tho’, faith! I fear ye dine but sparely
On sic a place.
Explore more Robert Burns poems.
One of the best examples of a tail rhyme stanza can be found in Alfred Lord Tennyson’s famous poem ‘The Lady of Shallot.’ It follows a rhyme scheme of AAAABCCCB. The first four lines rhyme, followed by a “B” tail rhyme (which is repeated at the end of the stanza), followed by three new “C” rhymes.
Related Literary Terms
- Alcaic Stanza: a type of lyrical meter thought to have been invented by Alcaeus, a writer from Mitylene.
- 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 that was 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.
- Onegin Stanza: or Pushkin sonnet, is a stanza form invented and popularized by Alexander Pushkin in his 1825-1832 novel, Eugene Onegin.
- Ottava Rima: is used to describe a particular type of stanza in poetry. It uses eight iambic lines and follows a rhyme scheme of ABABABCC.
- Listen: Robert Burns – The People’s Poet
- Watch: What is a Stanza?
- Listen: Everything You Need to Know about Rhyme Schemes in Poetry