* line break
* stanza/stanzaic form
* stanza break
Before you can begin composing any poetic work, you much first think about how you want to treat each
physical element within the poem. Once you have established the types of elements you would like to include
in your masterwork, then you may move on to decide how you would like to combine them. While subsequent
chapters will discuss different types of feet, lines, and stanzas in more detail, it is important that you first be
able to examine a poem and recognize each of these parts.
A line is a unit in a structure of a poem consisting of one or more words arranged together.
Other than individual words and syllables, the line is the smallest unit of a poem. Every poem is made up
of lines. A line of poetry is not always a whole sentence, nor does it have to be just a single word—unless
you choose a traditional form of verse, you are not limited as to how long or short your lines should be.
Most formal types of poetry dictate a specific number of lines in a specific grouping pattern; however, before
choosing a verse form, you should understand your purpose, what you hope to achieve in your poem. You
must be aware that each line must contribute something to your poem as a whole. Even where you choose to
break your lines is vital to the meaning and flow of your poem.
The division between each line in a poem is called a line break.
Line breaks help to create a pattern in your poetry. Where you choose to break a line can dramatically
contribute to or detract from the effectiveness of your verse. Remember that whatever is at the beginning or
end of a line will get slightly more of the reader’s attention than what is in the middle. If you break a line mid-
sentence, it should be to achieve a certain effect, to draw attention to a particular word or idea. If you break
your lines at the ends of complete sentences, realize that it will lend your poem a more structured and rigid
feel than would ending your lines mid-sentence.
Just as important as where you break your lines is how you choose to group the lines within your poem. Will
there be one group, comprising the entire poem? Will you divide your poem into two unequal groups, or will
you group your lines in regular patterns of twos or fours? However you decide to create them, these groups of
lines are another essential unit within your poem.
A stanza is a division of a poem made by arranging the lines into units separated by a space. Though not
all poems are divided into stanzas, verse with such divisions has a stanzaic form.
The stanza is another way to group and place emphasis upon certain thoughts or words. When writing any
poem, you must decide how you want to group each line. Some poems will have a single stanza—that is, there
will be no breaks between groups of lines before the end of the poem. Other poems may have many breaks,
creating multiple stanzas that are groups of a few lines.
A stanza break is the space that separates two groups of lines to form separate stanzas.
Determine the desired effect for a poem before deciding how to break your stanzas. If your goal is to express
a series of thoughts that lead to a conclusion, you may not wish to break your poem into stanzas at all, or you
may want each of your thoughts to be in a separate stanza, with the conclusion in its own stanza at the end.
While the decision about stanza and line length is ultimately yours, it is important to understand how each of
these elements can be used so that you may choose the right forms for your poetry.