Spenserian Stanza

The English Renaissance poet Edmund Spenser wrote his greatest work, the epic called The Faerie Queene, in a stanza form since named for him. The nine-line stanza rhymes ababbcbcC, where the capital "C" means the last verse is an Alexandrine: it has six feet instead of five, which is to say, it's a hexameter instead of pentameter.

This complex form can be difficult to handle: it demands that only three words account for nine lines' worth of rhymes, and the "b" word needs four rhymes. An example from Spenser himself:

Forth came that auncient Lord and aged Queene,
Arayd in antique robes downe to the ground,
And sad habiliments right well beseene;
A noble crew about them waited round
Of sage and sober Peres, all gravely gownd;
Whom farre before did march a goodly band
Of tall young men, all hable armes to sownd,
But now they laurell braunches bore in hand;
Glad signe of victorie and peace in all their land.

The Faerie Queene, I.xii.5.

The form was imitated in the eighteenth century, but was modified to make it easier to write and, to eighteenth-century readers, at least, easier to read. The original form made something of a comeback in the Romantic period.


From the Guide to Literary Terms by Jack Lynch.
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Note: This guide is still in the early stages of development.
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