Spenserian stanza

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018

Spenserian stanza

Spenserian stanza: A complex stanza form developed by sixteenth-century English poet Edmund Spenser for his long narrative poem, The Faerie Queene (1590, 1596). A Spenserian stanza has nine lines with the rhyme scheme ababbcbcc. The first eight lines are written in iambic pentameter, and the final line is an Alexandrine (iambic hexameter). Other poets who have used the form include the romantics George Gordon, Lord Byron; John Keats; and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

EXAMPLES: The opening stanza of the first canto of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene:

A gentle Knight was pricking on the plaine,

Ycladd in mightie armes and silver shielde,

Wherein old dints of deepe woundes did remaine,

The cruel markes of many’ a bloody fielde;

Yet armes till that time did he never wield:

His angry steede did chide his foming bitt,

As much disdayning to the curbe to yield:

Full jolly knight he seemed, and faire did sitt,

As one for knightly giusts and fierce encounters fitt.

Keats employed the Spenserian stanza form in “The Eve of St. Agnes” (1820):

Anon his heart revives: Her vespers done,

Of all its wreathéd pearls her hair she frees;

Unclasps her warméd jewels one by one;

Loosens her fragrant bodice; by degrees

Her rich attire creeps rustling to her knees:

Half-hidden, like a mermaid in sea-weed,

Pensive awhile she dreams awake, and sees,

In fancy, fair St. Agnes in her bed,

But dares not look behind, or all the charm is fled.