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"Can you explain terza rima and give an example?" ~Anon, grade 5

Terza Rima is an Italian phrase that means "third rhyme." It's a specific way of rhyming lines in a poem. I think of it as sort of a revolving door of rhymes. In each stanza of a Terza Rima poem, there are two lines that rhyme, and one line that does not. The line that doesn't rhyme provides the rhyming syllable for the next stanza. Even though it doesn't rhyme with other lines in that stanza, it provides a connection to the next stanza, thus building the whole poem into a progressive, seamless whole.

In a Terza Rima poem, the last stanza often has two rhyming lines (that's called a couplet).

In other words, the rhyme scheme looks something like this:

ABA - BCB - CDC - DD

If you wanted more than four stanzas, you could chain together as many stanzas as you want in this format.

If you have a hard time following that explanation, here's a silly poem I wrote just for you, that uses the Terza Rima rhyme scheme:

Candy Land

I dreamed the world was made of cookie dough.
The skies were filled with cotton candy clouds,
And from them blew a storm of whipped-cream snow.

The fields of chocolate, farmers left unplowed;
The stalks of candy-cane grew everywhere,
And gum-drops grew on bushes, low but proud.

Oh, nothing in this world seemed quite so fair
As pine tree branches bowed with sugar cones -
Enough for all the hungry crowds to share.

A whiff of spearmint on the wind was blown
O'er milk-shake streams and maple syrup lakes.
I shouted from atop my candied throne:

"This world of ours, it really takes the cake -
If it's a dream, I do not wish to wake!"

Copyright 2017 by Douglas Twitchell


If you study over the lines to see which ones rhyme, you'll notice that in the first stanza, dough and snow rhyme. The word clouds doesn't rhyme with anything in that stanza. However, it does rhyme with unplowed and proud in the next stanza. Similarly, everywhere in the second stanza doesn't rhyme with anything else in that stanza, but it does rhyme with fair and share in the next stanza. Finally, the concluding couplet takes lakes from the previous stanza and makes it the basis for the concluding rhyme.

Incidentally, Robert Frost wrote a terza rima sonnet titled "Acquainted with the Night." In addition, his poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" is not Terza Rima, but it's a very similar "chained" rhyme; each stanza has four lines. The third line doesn't rhyme with the others, but it does introduce the rhyme for the next stanza. The rhyme scheme looks like this:

 AABA - BBCB - CCDC - DDDD

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