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in versification, a group of lines unified by a pattern that recurs from one group to the next. Every work of poetry divides naturally into groups of lines. A poem whose division is unregulated, that is, subject only to syntax and meaning, is called astrophic; examples are the Iliad and Russian byliny (epic folk songs). A poem whose division is regulated is called strophic; examples are the odes of Pindar and Lomonosov. The reader or listener of a strophic poem anticipates, without paying attention to meaning, the appearance at certain places of such features as rhyme, a strong caesura, a truncated line, or a masculine ending. A poem may also be in a form between that of astrophic and strophic verse; for example, it may have stanzas of varying length. Thus, the Chanson de Roland is in sections of irregular length unified by rhyme, and N. A. Nekrasov’s Who Can Be Happy in Russia? is composed of stanza-like divisions of irregular length, each of which has a number of lines with a feminine ending followed by a concluding line with a masculine ending.
The stanza in strophic poems is usually short enough (two to 12–16 lines) to be immediately discernible. In poems by G. R. Derzhavin, however, there are stanzas of 38 lines, and in classical lyrics, even longer stanzas. A stanza may contain recurring internal patterns; for example, the 14-line Onegin stanza is divided into three quatrains and a concluding couplet. Stanzas may also be unified by means of larger recurring groups of lines. Examples are the combination of the solo part and refrain in songs and of strophe, antistrophe, and epode in ancient Greek choral lyrics.
The simplest and oldest stanza is the couplet; the quatrain developed from the couplet through the division of the couplet’s long lines into hemistichs. The couplet and quatrain are the most widely used stanzas in European poetry, and almost all the other modern European stanzas have resulted from the lengthening or combining of these two stanzas.
The lines in classical stanzas alternated regularly and varied in meter; examples are the alcaic and sapphic stanzas. In modern European poetry, the lines in stanzas alternate regularly and vary in ending and rhyme scheme. Among the rhyme schemes are crossed rhyme (abab), paired rhyme (aabb), and enclosed rhyme (abba).
The end of a stanza or even of a half-stanza is often marked by a truncated line; examples are the elegiac distich, the iambic epode, and the sapphic stanza. In modern poetry, such stanzas are found in Pushkin’s poems “Upon the hills of Georgia” and “I have erected a monument to myself.” The end of a stanza is also often marked by a truncated line; stanzas with a masculine ending are much more common than those with a feminine ending. This illustrates the general tendency to reduce the concluding line of a section of verse. The same tendency may also be observed in a less regulated form: it has been noted, for example, that the first lines of stanzas contain, on the average, more stresses than the concluding lines of stanzas.
The role of the stanza in the rhythmic structure of a poem is analogous to that of the sentence in the syntactic structure of a written text. For this reason, the strophic and syntactic divisions of a poem usually coincide. The stanza tends to be complete syntactically; the running over of a sentence from one stanza to the next is very rare. The first part of a stanza takes on a rising intonation, or anti-cadence, and the final part of the stanza, a falling intonation, or cadence (German Aufgesang and Abgesang). The structure of the stanza tends toward symmetry and various forms of parallelism. All deviations from the rhythmic and syntactic base acquire a particular expressive force.
Some forms of the stanza that have developed within folk or literary poetry have traditionally been linked with a specific genre, subject matter, or style, and have retained these associations in subsequent usage. An example is the couplet of the classical elegiac distich, of the Arabic ghazal, and of the French alexandrine; the three-line terza rima (aba bcb cdc) of Dante’s Divine Comedy; and the quatrain of English and German ballads, with alternating four- and three-foot lines. Other examples are the eight-line ottava rima (abababcc) of Italian Renaissance narrative poems, the nine-line Spenserian stanza (ababbcbcc), the ten-line stanza of classical odes (ababccdeed), and the 14-line Onegin stanza (ababccddeffegg). Such stanzas are very close to fixed verse forms whose patterns, as well as the size of the poem they constitute, are predetermined. Examples are the sonnet, the triolet, the rondel, the rondeau, and the sestina.
REFERENCESZhirmunskii, V. M. “Kompozitsiia liricheskikh stikhotvorenii.” In Teoriia stikha. Leningrad, 1975.
Tomashevskii, B. V. “Strofika Pushkina.” In Stikh i iazyk. Moscow-Leningrad, 1958.
Nikonov, V. A. “Strofika.” In the collection Izuchenie stikhoslozheniia v shkole. Moscow, 1960.
Martinon, P. Les Strophes. Paris, 1912.
M. L. GASPAROV