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Stanza

Stanzas are the building blocks of formal poetry, like paragraphs in a story or verses in a song. They usually have the same number of lines each time, and often use a rhyming pattern that repeats with each new stanza.

Explanation of stanza

A stanza is essentially the basic structural unit of a poem that recurs over and over again in order to create the poem as a whole. It is like the building block of the poem. 

For example, a poem of 64 lines may be broken up into 16 sets of 4 lines each. Each of those 4-line sets would be a stanza within the poem. 

Examples & Rules

For your reference, here are some examples of the term stanza being used correctly within the context of actual sentences. 

"The modern poem was somewhat difficult for the reader to follow due to the fact that each stanza had a different meter and number of lines from every other stanza." 

"In order for a stanza to qualify as a Spenserian stanza, it must have 8 lines of iambic pentameter followed by one line of iambic hexameter; and it must follow a specific rhyme scheme as well."

"The avant-garde poem did not have a stanza structure: it consisted of line after line of stream-of-consciousness verse, with no breaks or subunits in its structure."

In case you are still a little confused about the meaning of the literary term stanza, here are a couple basic guidelines you can follow. 

1. A stanza is simply a structural unit of a poem. It is usually a regular and recurring unit, although this may not always be the case, especially within the context of more modern or experimental poetry. 

2. Not all poetry follows a stanza structure. For example, blank verse is often composed line by line, with no regular subunits. The same is true with much of epic poetry

3. In the strictest sense, the term stanza refers to a unit that has a consistent and recurring meter and rhyme scheme. However, the term has often come to refer more broadly to any set of lines that constitute a subunit within a poem.    

Additional information

The stanza was very important for traditional poetry; it was even the main factor determining the particular subgenre into which a given poem could fall. For example, a Shakespearean sonnet had a specific stanza structure; a Petrarchan sonnet had a different stanza structure; a sestina had yet another structure; and so on. Moreover, each of these stanza structures was defined by specific meters and rhyme schemes. These were the forms that poets were generally expected to follow. To create a formally correct stanza was thus essential to the very nature of being a poet. 

With modern poetry, though, the concept of the traditional stanza has become considerably less important. This is because in modern poetry, the poet tends to create his own metrical structure on the basis of the specific aesthetic needs of the poem at hand, as opposed to trying to make the poem match up with a preconceived stanza structure. In this context, each of the subunits within a given modern poem (insofar as there still are subunits) could be identified as a stanza. Properly speaking, this is a less technical usage of the term stanza than what has historically been the norm. Nevertheless, it may be most relevant usage for the analysis of the kind of works that poets tend to compose in these times. 

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