How to Arrange Lines in a Poem
Unlike prose writing, which is written in sentences and paragraphs, poems are written in lines and stanzas. Choosing how to arrange those lines is part of the craft of poem writing. Poets consider how to situate words, lines and spaces in order to create rhythm and tempo. These poetic devices help to create a mood which supports the theme of the poem.
Lines and Stanzas
Poets arrange lines in order to support the mood and rhythms of their themes. Poetry can be arranged in stanzas, which are considered “strophic,” or in lines, which is considered “stichic.”
A stanza is set apart by using spaces above and below to indicate an individual unit. Using stanzas creates a song-like poem and sets up a structure which makes room for a change in subject matter, similar to the way paragraphs do.
Arranging poems by lines creates a structure that feels more like speech than song. Narrative poems, epic poems and free verse are usually arranged by lines.
Rhyme Scheme Arrangements
In rhymed poetry, the lines are arranged according to a rhyme scheme. If you are going to use rhyme in your poem, you will need to develop a rhyme scheme.
Rhyme schemes are presented as a series of sequenced letters that correspond to the lines of a poem. Starting with the letter “A,” each line is designated by a different letter until a rhyme appears at the end of a line.
For example, if a poem has a rhyme scheme of ABBA, the first and fourth lines will rhyme, and the second and third lines will rhyme.
In a rhyme scheme of ABCA, the first and fourth lines will rhyme, but the second and third lines will not.
Restrictions of Meter and Verse
The lines in metered poetry are arranged in a specific pattern and structure. For instance, English sonnets are poems that require fourteen lines. The first eight lines follow a specific rhyme scheme and the last six lines follow a different rhyme scheme.
The change in rhyme scheme also indicates a change in subject matter. Sonnets are usually written in iambic pentameter. This means that each line contains five iambic feet, or groups of two syllables that create a pattern of one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable.
Each line of an English sonnet will begin at the left margin and end after each repetition of five iambic feet. In order to create poems that conform to specific structures, you will need to learn the requirements of each form. For instance, a couplet is a two-lined stanza.
Visualize It: Concrete Poetry
Line arrangement is the most important element in concrete poetry because the arrangement of the lines supports the topic of the poem.
For instance, in a poem about falling down the stairs, the writer could arrange the words and lines to look like a staircase.
In one case, Poet Jeffery Sasu arranges synonyms for “spiral” in the shape of a spiral. Jack Prelutsky, in his poem “I Was Walking in a Circle,” arranges the words in a circle. Reading the poem, the reader soon realizes that there is no end to it.
Debbie McCarson is a former English teacher and school business administrator. Her articles have appeared in "School Librarians’ Journal" and "The Encyclopedia of New Jersey." A South Jersey native, she is a regular contributor to "South Jersey MOM" magazine.