Spenserian stanza

The Spenserian stanza is named after Edmund Spenser (1552?-1599), author of The Faerie Queene, and beloved of crossword compilers for his archaic and imaginative spellynge. It consists of nine lines rhyming ababbcbcc, iambic pentameters throughout except for the last line which is a hexameter or alexandrine. Here's one:

All Comedians are Paper Tigers
Groucho or Karl? Who scores the higher marks?
Who pulls rank in the list of all-time greats?
What price those cinematographic larks
And lines about the people’s opiates?
While Groucho makes us chuckle, Karl berates
Us: Unity! Loose chains! Less thought, more deeds!
Who’s better off – the man who cachinnates,
Or he who’s sown with revolution’s seeds?
Let’s take the best from each according to our needs.

It's not at all a bad form - Byron, Shelley, Keats, and Tennyson all used it, and they knew a thing or two. But there's a body of respectable opinion that feels Edmund himself overdid it. The Faerie Queene runs to 6 books of these things. See also Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Shelley's Adonais, Keats' The Eve of St Agnes, and Tennyson's The Lotos-Eaters.

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© Bob Newman 2004, 2005. All rights reserved.

This page last updated 08/06/2005