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

Stanza Example 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;


Stanza Example 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.

Stanza Example 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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