The Spenserian stanza is a fixed verse form invented by Edmund Spenser for his epic poem The Faerie Queene (1590–96). Each stanza contains nine lines in total: eight lines in iambic pentameter followed by a single 'alexandrine' line in iambic hexameter. The rhyme scheme of these lines is "ababbcbcc."
This example is the first stanza from Spenser's Faerie Queene. The formatting, wherein all lines but the first and last are indented, is the same as in contemporary printed editions.
- Lo I the man, whose Muse whilome did maske,
- As time her taught, in lowly Shepheards weeds,
- Am now enforst a far unfitter taske,
- For trumpets sterne to chaunge mine Oaten reeds,
- And sing of Knights and Ladies gentle deeds;
- Whose prayses having slept in silence long,
- Me, all too meane, the sacred Muse areeds
- To blazon broad emongst her learned throng:
- Fierce warres and faithfull loues shall moralize my song.
Spenser's invention may have been influenced by the Italian form ottava rima, which consists of eight lines of iambic pentameter with the rhyme scheme "abababcc." This form was used by Spenser's Italian role models Ludovico Ariosto and Torquato Tasso.
Another possible influence is rhyme royal, a traditional medieval form used by Geoffrey Chaucer and others, which has seven lines of iambic pentameter that rhyme "ababbcc." More likely, however, is the eight-line ballad stanza with the rhyme scheme "ababbcbc," which Chaucer used in his Monk's Tale. Spenser would have been familiar with this rhyme scheme and simply added a line to the stanza, forming "ababbcbcc."
Use by others
Spenser's verse form fell into disuse in the period immediately following his death. However, it was revived in the nineteenth century by several notable poets, including:
- Lord Byron in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage
- Felicia Hemans in "The Forest Sanctuary"
- John Keats in The Eve of St. Agnes
- Percy Bysshe Shelley in The Revolt of Islam and Adonaïs
- Sir Walter Scott in The Vision of Don Roderick.
- Robert Burns in "The Cotter's Saturday Night," which shows his ability to use English forms while praising Scotland.
- William Wordsworth in "The Female Vagrant", included in Wordsworth and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads
- Alfred, Lord Tennyson in The Lotos-Eaters, in the first part of the poem.
- Morton, Edward Payson. "The Spenserian Stanza before 1700". Modern Philology, Volume 4, No. 4, April 1907. pp. 639–654
- A Spenser Handbook, by H.S.V. Jones. Published by Appleton-Century-Crofts, INC>, New York 1958. Page 142.