What Is a Stanza?
A stanza is to poetry what a paragraph is to prose: that is, it is a single unit of thought expressed as a group of lines placed together. Songs, poetry, and some drama are written in stanza form.
How Do You Identify a Stanza in Writing?
A poem may have only one or many stanzas. They are expressed by single spacing; a double space indicates a new stanza. Some poets number each stanza in a poem, but most do not.
Stanzas may be tightly controlled, with patterned rhyme schemes and repeating lines. In free verse, however, stanzas can vary in length and may not even seem to have much unity of thought. Often, however, when a poet breaks for a new stanza, she wishes to change the tone or focus of the poem. Sometimes a stanza break is simply done to produce a jarring effect that gets the reader to think more closely about what is being said.
Examples of Stanzas
1. "When You Are Old," William Butler Yeats
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
2. "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," William Wordsworth
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
3. "When I Have Fears that I May Cease to Be," John Keats
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the fairy power
Of unreflecting love—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.
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