Terza rima

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

Terza rima

Terza rima: An Italian verse form composed of three-line (tercet) stanzas, often in iambic meter, with an interlocking rhyme scheme. In terza rima, the final words of the first and last lines of each tercet rhyme, and the final word of the middle line of each tercet rhymes with the final words of the first and last lines of the following tercet, creating a linking rhyme pattern typically closed by a single line or couplet whose final word rhymes with the final word of the middle line of the last tercet, hence the rhyme scheme aba bcb cdc etc., ending yzy z or yzy zz. The form, generally attributed to Florentine epic poet Dante Alighieri, who used it in his Divina commedia (The Divine Comedy) (1321), was imported into English by Geoffrey Chaucer in “A Complaint to His Lady” (1374).

The term terza rima sonnet refers to a fourteen-line poem or section of a poem following the rhyme scheme aba bcb cdc ded ee.

FURTHER EXAMPLES: Veronica Franco’s Terze rime (Poems in Terza Rima) (1575). Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” (1820), the first three stanzas of which follow, includes the use of eye rhyme rather than perfect rhyme in the c lines (thou / low / blow):

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,

Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead

Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,

Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,

Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low,

Each like a corpse within its grave, until

Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow… .

Twentieth-century uses or adaptations of the form include Robert Frost’s terza rima sonnet “Acquainted with the Night” (1928), Archibald MacLeish’s “Conquistador” (1932), W. H. Auden’s The Sea and the Mirror (1944), Sylvia Plath’s “The Sow” (1957), and Derek Walcott’s epic poem Omeros (1990). Contemporary examples include Terrance Hayes’s “The Blue Terrance” (Wind in a Box [2006]) and Sheenagh Pugh’s “The Sailor Who Fell from the Rigging” (2012).