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Burns Stanza, Standard Habbie, Six Line Stave, Scottish Stanza

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Explore the Craft of Writing
Scottish Verse

Burns Stanza, also known as the Standard Habbie, Six Line Stave or the Scottish Stanza is a tail rhyme stanza, meaning the last line of the stanza is short and rhymes with another short line within the stanza. Because of the quick lines, the stanza is not particularly suited to meditation but better suited as a vehicle for social observations. The stanza is pretty much a single sentence which because of the composition of lines, tests the dexterity of the poet. In order to write in this form, it is said the poet should have a "healthy irreverence toward rhyme and diction". E. Stichy George Mason University Scot Poetry.

The Burns stanza was made popular by the 18th century Scot poet, Robert Burns but was previously used by another Scot, Habbie Simpson in the early 1600s. The contemporary Scottish poet Douglas Dunn refers to Burn's work as "a triumphant pursuit of an awkward stanza." The form could also be categorized as a variation of the 16th century Occitan form Rime Couée.

The elements of the Burns Stanza are:

  1. stanzaic, written in any number of sixains.
  2. metered, the standard meter of Scottish poetry is tetrameter. This stanza is most often written with L1, L2, L3, L5 in iambic tetrameter and L4 and L6 in iambic dimeter. Some sources indicated the form to be syllabic, with the long lines being between 8 and 9 syllables and the short lines between 4 and 5 syllables.
  3. rhymed, rhyme scheme aaabab cccdcd etc.

    Requiem for Mac Adoo by Judi Van Gorder

    Tonight my parrot died a quick
    and senseless death and I am sick
    with guilt that I allowed the tick
    of time to spin
    ahead of care and play the trick
    that caused this sin.

    I had no time to stop the kill,
    the dog who seemed to have no will
    or thought of it, with deadly chill,
    in instant snatch
    took down the bird, in seconds still
    without a scratch.

    No more a watch bird guards my home,
    her comic antics were just on loan
    to make me laugh and write a poem
    of noise and mess
    and all the rest that sings a tome
    with love's caress.

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