If you read and write poetry, then you must be familiar with its formalistic elements such as rhyme, meter, sound and imagery. Poems are typically written in stanza form composed of a certain number of lines that are written in a specific rhyming scheme.

The meter and the rhyming scheme determine and characterise the poetry writing style being used. The Terza Rima is one of the famous and well-used writing styles in poetry.

Origins and History of Terza Rima

The Terza Rima style originated from Italian poet that hailed from Florence in the 13th century, Dante Alighieri. It was popularised by his masterpiece, The Divine Comedy (1308-1320), an epic poem composed of 14,233 lines that narrate the journey of Dante, the pilgrim in the three realms of the Christian afterlife.

His Italian contemporaries like Boccaccio and Petrarch followed his style of writing. The Terza Rima was brought and adapted into English poetry in the 14th century by Thomas Wyatt and Geoffrey Chaucer. Other English writers followed from the Romantic poets of the 17th century like Shelley and Byron up to the modern poetry of Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich.

Applying Terza Rima in Poetry Writing

Unlike in other poetry writing styles like Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter and the Petrarchan sonnet style, the Terza Rima specifies no restriction for a poem’s meter. Instead, it focuses more on form and the rhyming scheme. For a poem to be written in the Terza Rima tradition, it must be written with tercets or three-line stanzas. The stanzas are connected via a rhyming scheme: ‘aba’, ‘bcb’, ‘cdc’, ‘ded’, ‘efe’ and so on. There is length restrictons or the number of stanzas, but a poem written in the Terza Rima style is traditionally concluded with last couplet or a single line. 

Examples of Poems that Use Terza Rima

  • “Ode to the West Wind” by Percy B. Shelley

This poem was written by Shelley in 1819 near Florence, Italy and was initially published in his collection entitled ‘Prometheus Unbound’. Most critics comment that the Peterloo Massacre of August 1819 inspired the poem. The poem is read as an allegory where the poet serves as a voice for change and revolution.

The poem is composed of five sections written in Terza Rima. Each chapter is comprised of four tercets with the rhyming ‘aba’, ‘bcb’, ‘cdc’, ‘ded’ and ends with a couplet (a stanza with two lines) with a rhyming scheme of ‘ee’.

  • “Acquainted with the Night” by Robert Frost

This poem was first published as a part of the author’s 1928 poetry collection, West-Running Brook. However, it was first published in The Virginia Quarterly Review. This poem is often read as an exploration of the experience of depression which is symbolised by “the night.” The persona in the poem comments how even if he is in the busy city he still feels loneliness. The poem is composed of 14 lines similar to sonnets. It is made up of four tercets and a couplet with the rhyme scheme of ‘aba’, ‘bcb’, ‘cdc’, ‘dad’, ‘aa’.