menu

How to Write a Poem Using Stanza, Rhyme Scheme, Repetition & Refrain


The paradox between the free form of some poetry and the rigid conventions of other types can frustrate poets. Mastering such conventions as stanza, rhyme scheme, repetition and refrain is more about practicing your own art and style than memorizing some other poet's techniques. Knowing that the conventions exist, however, will allow you to use them to your advantage. In poetry, the poem's physical structure can impart as much information as the meaning of its words.

Stanza

Stanza, or verse, is the way in which the words are physically arranged on the page. Various categories of stanza exist, and Brooklyn College suggests reading poets such as Walt Whitman, William Shakespeare and William Wordsworth to develop an ear for the different patterns. Be cognizant of your own feelings as you read poetry with varying stanza styles. Lines with short, abrupt words tend to cause the reader to slow down, or convey a sense of importance, while long, flowing lines generally give the reader a sense of freedom and openness.

Rhyme Scheme

A rhyme scheme is the pattern of rhyming lines or words within a line. Most readers focus on the last word of each line to isolate the rhyme scheme. There are multiple possibilities for rhyme scheme patterns, but the important thing is to have a pattern and stick to it, unless it makes sense in your context to not stick to the pattern. Winthrop University's English department explains that typically, in a four-line stanza, a pattern will emerge with the last words of the first and third lines rhyming and the second and fourth lines rhyming, although other patterns are plentiful. Writing in such a pattern involves having a sufficient vocabulary to shuffle words around to fit into the pattern you've created.

Repetition

The University of Pennsylvania considers repetition one of the most versatile poetic devices available. This strategy involves the repetition of a syllable, word, phrase, line, stanza, or sound. Well-placed repetition can even create its own meter. A writer can use repetition to reinforce a point or to create a contrasting relationship, such as in Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner."

I looked upon the rotting sea, And drew my eyes away; I looked upon the rotting deck, And there the dead men lay.

Refrain

Similar in usage to repetition is a refrain. A refrain is similar to the chorus of a song -- a line that is repeated throughout the poem. The New Jersey Institute of Technology gives the example of "Things are Never What They Seem" by Charles Michaels, in which the phrase "or seem to" is repeated at the end of every stanza. A refrain such as this helps to create a flow in the poem, bringing the reader back to ideas presented in earlier stanzas, often building a sense of suspense.

About the Author

Michael Mason has a Bachelor of Science in psychology and a Master of Education in education. He has taught high school language arts and adult-level GED classes. He currently teaches adult basic education classes in a medium security detention facility. Prior to his career in education, he was a manager for a successful hotel company and a 911 dispatcher.

Photo Credits
  • Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images