Monday, June 08, 2015

Monday Poetry Stretch - Sapphic Stanza

The Sapphic stanza is composed of 4 lines, the first three lines consisting of 11 syllables, the last line of 5 syllables. The long lines are called hendecasyllabics, while the short line is called adonic. In their writing, the Greeks focused on long and short vowel sounds, today we focus on meter. Here is what the lines look like.

1 - two trochees, a dactyl, two trochees
2 - two trochees, a dactyl, two trochees
3 - two trochees, a dactyl, two trochees
4 - one dactyl, one trochee

What does this mean? 

A trochee has two beats in the pattern stressed/unstressed, such as in words like happy, double, and planet. It is noted as / u.

A dactyl has three beats in the pattern stressed/unstressed/unstressed, such as in words like carefully, tenderly, and buffalo. It is note as / u u.

So using this notation, here's what a Sapphic stanza looks like metrically.

1 - / u / u / u  u / u / u
2 - / u / u / u  u / u / u
3 - / u / u / u  u / u / u
4 - / u u / u 

Originally, these stanzas were not rhymed, but in the Middle Ages they sometimes acquired the rhyme scheme abab. 

Phew! That's a lot to remember. For more information, Poetry Magnum Opus has a terrific overview of the form and its changes through time. You can read some examples and learn more about the form in the the piece On Form: Rachel Wetzsteon.

Here's an example by the poet Sara Teasdale.

The Lamp 
If I can bear your love like a lamp before me,
When I go down the long steep Road of Darkness,
I shall not fear the everlasting shadows,
Nor cry in terror.

If I can find out God, then I shall find Him,
If none can find Him, then I shall sleep soundly,
Knowing how well on earth your love sufficed me,
A lamp in darkness.

I hope you'll join me this week in writing a rhymed or unrhymed Sapphic stanza or two. Please share a link to your poem or the poem itself in the comments.


  1. Wind

    Outside the wind is moving the leaves and grass.
    In here a wind that cannot be felt blows wide.
    My heart self sways, it trembles from words that push,
    politely breathing.

    The smiles are light, they’re proper, is it just me
    who feels the talk as if it were hurricanes?
    You look, you see but don’t see. You shove and shake
    my branches, blow on.

    —Kate Coombs, 2015
    all rights reserved

    1. Thanks for sharing this, Kate. I am so used to writing in iambic pentameter that I am having great difficulty with this stretch. The meter is so different and feels stilted. You, however, have mad it look easy! Nicely done.

    2. I agree. Kate made it look easy, and it's not! (And I am still re-reading her abandoned barn poem from a few weeks back. Memorable.)

    3. You guys are so nice! And I just now realized I did the stressed and unstressed syllables all backwards! (There are perils to writing early in the morning, clearly.) At any rate, this kind of form drives me nuts, but I think it's good practice. :)

  2. This form is hard and feels clunky to me. I'm posting this but may post a revised version later in the week. What fun. Thanks for the stretch.


    Nectar sipper, butterfly flutters over,
    Never showing—pardon her—where her home is:
    Greening garden, weed covered grasses, clover:
    Each an oasis.

    © 2015 Stephanie Parsley Ledyard