Posts Tagged ‘Spenserian Stanza’
One of the best ways to identify small excerpts from poems on the GRE Literature is to know what form they are written in. You may not recognize the 23rd stanza of The Faerie Queene, for example, but if you know that the passage in front of you is a Spenserian stanza, you’re one step closer to knowing who wrote it, when it was written, how many feet there are in each line, etc.
The Spenserian stanza is almost guaranteed to show up on the GRE Literature, and so I recommend you know it in all of its guises. This form was invented by Edmund Spenser for his epic poem The Faerie Queene, and shows up frequently in romantic poetry from the 1800’s.
Each Spenserian stanza contains nine lines in total: eight lines in iambic pentameter followed by a single, 12 sylable ‘Alexandrine‘ line in iambic hexameter. The rhyme scheme of these lines is “ababbcbcc.”
Spenser’s Faerie Queene (first stanza)
Lo I the man, whose Muse whilome did maske,
As time her taught, in lowly Shepheards weeds,
Am now enforst a far vnfitter taske,
For trumpets sterne to chaunge mine Oaten reeds,
And sing of Knights and Ladies gentle deeds;
Whose prayses hauing slept in silence long,
Me, all too meane, the sacred Muse areeds
To blazon broad emongst her learned throng:
Fierce warres and faithfull loues shall moralize my song.
The third stanza from Shelly’s “Adonais”:
Oh weep for Adonais-he is dead!
Wake, melancholy Mother, wake and weep!
Yet wherefore? Quench within their burning bed
Thy fiery tears, and let thy loud heart keep,
Like his, a mute and uncomplaining sleep;
For he is gone where all things wise and fair
Descend. Oh dream not that the amorous deep
Will yet restore him to the vital air;
Death feeds on his mute voice, and laughs at our despair .
The Spenserian Stanza in Literature
The Spenserian Stanza experienced a revival in the 1800’s when it was used by the following notable poets:
Lord Byron in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage
John Keats in The Eve of St. Agnes
Percy Bysshe Shelley in The Revolt of Islam and Adonais
Sir Walter Scott in The Vision of Don Roderick
William Wordsworth in The Female Vagrant, included in Wordsworth and Coleridge’s “Lyrical Ballads”
I recommend you memorize this list. It’s easy to get confused with some of these longer poems, and at least one of them is likely to show up on the GRE.
Spenser’s invention may have been influenced by the following preexisting forms:
ottava rima – Italian form which consists of eight lines of iambic pentameter with the rhyme scheme “abababcc.”
rhyme royal - a traditional mediæval form used by Geoffrey Chaucer and others, which has seven lines of iambic pentameter that rhyme “ababbcc.” (a comparatively modern use of the ottava rima is found in Byron’s Don Juan)
The Faerie Queen is a big one on the GRE, but it’s pretty easy to recognize if you know your Spensarian stanza. You should also take some time learning the characters and their allegorical significances. I hate to even suggest it, but
Unfortunately I couldn’t find many great audiobooks for The Faerie Queen, but here are three of the cantos just to give you a sense of it. In the meantime, you can download the free e-book of at
Listen to the Audio recording of: