Friday, April 16, 2010

Leaving Italy: The Terza Rima

The Terza Rima is a classic Italian form, made famous by Dante in his Divine Comedy. It’s a highly syllabic form, which makes it easier to write in Italian than English, or so I heard in college, since Italian and similar Romantic languages have more rhyming words than our mish-meshed English.

Terza rima is written in iambic tercets, meaning a three-line grouping with a unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable (looks like xX; or, oh SHIT, not OH shit, with the emphasis on the second syllable). It can be iambic pentameter, but in my opinion, since that’s more famously an English form (thank Shakespeare), it’s not strictly essential. The rhyme scheme is supposed to interlock, looking like aba bcb cdc and so forth as long as you want. Hey, Dante wrote an entire freaking book that way. Apparently, you can end the poem with a couplet, but, again, nothing strict on this. Another source,, asserts that the ending can look like this: xyx yzy z. Personally, I like that one, but its open. If a couplet works better, use it. For more on the terza rima, check out

The terza rima sonnet is a fourteen-line version, sort of a cross between the English sonnet and the terza rima. This would lend itself more to iambic pentameter, if one were so inclined. Also called the diaspora sonnet, the same meter (ohSHIT) applies, as does the stanza length, as in the longer big sister terza rima. All that changes is the length, so the complete rhyme scheme looks like: aba bcb cdc ded ee.

In contrast, the Italian or Petrarchan Sonnet has a rhyme scheme of abbaabba cdecde, while the English or Shakespearean sonnet looks like abab cdcd efef gg, so the terza rima sonnet is like the love child of the English sonnet and big sister terza rima. Can’t wait to see what happens if the terza rima and infinite gloss ever fool around. On the other hand… (fierce shudder.)

Happy poeting.