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The Frame

Three Line Construction  Three line units of poetry could fall under one or all of the general terms tristich, tercet and triplet. The differences are purely technical rhetoric since all three terms are used synonymously. However, there can be divisions which I attempt to delineate here.

A tristich is a complete poem in three lines. Both the tercet and triplet can also be a tristich.

I found the words tercet and triplet to be commonly interchanged, although there were attempts at separating the two terms by various sources. Respected sources give same, similar and sometimes contradictory definitions. The term tercet is rooted in French and Italian while triplet is from Middle English. So if they mean the same thing, why would we in English ever use the foreign term tercet? Tercet, by the way, seems to be more commonly used in English than triplet. What is right, who knows? The one distinction I have recognized is that when the three-line stanza is mono-rhymed it is invariably referred to as a triplet. Therefore, to be consistent and clear throughout my research, I use the term "tercet" for any three line stanza except when it is mono-rhymed, then I use the term "triplet".

The Tercet is rooted in 14th century Italy when Dante elevated three line folk verse to an established stanzaic form in his Divine Comedy. The tercet is any three lines of verse grouped as a thought or sense unit. It is most often stanzaic and can be written in conjunction with any number of other tercets or in combination with other stanza forms. However, it can also be a stand-alone poem which technically could be a tristich. Meter and/or rhyme are written at the discretion of the poet.

Although the tercet is not as popular as the quatrain, it has taken its place of importance in Western poetics. It is the frame of the sestet, the Terza Rima, and the Villanelle. Even the haiku, when written in 3 lines, could be called a tercet.

While looking for examples of the form, the most common rhyme scheme I found outside of the Sicilian, interlocking rhyme of (aba bcb etc.) was, (aab ccd etc.) or (abb cdd etc).

Some of the more common variations of the tercet are:

  • Tercet, unrhymed is any poem written with stanzaic three line units that are not end-rhymed.

    Snow Man by Wallace Stevens 1879-1955 from Poetry 1921
    One must have a mind of winter
    To regard the frost and the boughs
    Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

    And have been cold a long time
    To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
    The spruces rough in the distant glitter

    Of the January sun; and not to think
    Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
    In the sound of a few leaves,

    Which is the sound of the land
    Full of the same wind
    That is blowing in the same bare place

    For the listener, who listens in the snow,
    And, nothing himself, beholds
    Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

  • An Enclosed Tercet sometimes called Enclosed Triplet, is a 3 line verse in which L1 and L3 rhyme, "enclosing" an unrhymed L2, rhyme scheme axa bxb etc. The lines may be written in any meter. Although many sources cited the enclosed tercet as commonly used, it was difficult to find a poem using the rhyme scheme to show an example, so in desperation, I wrote my own.

    3 AM by Judi Van Gorder
    Obsession drives me late into the night
    pushing limits, one more try
    in fear that inspiration will take flight.

    Tears form, pupils sensitive to light
    time to quit, shut it down,
    sleep and tomorrow make time to write.

  • Sicilian Tercet is a tercet written in iambic pentameter with an interlocking rhyme, aba bcb etc.

    Acquainted With the Night by Robert Frost from The New Hampshire 1923, is an example of Sicilian tercets within a verse form, the Terza Rima Sonnet.
    I have been one acquainted with the night.
    I have walked out in rain - and back in rain.
    I have outwalked the furthest city light.

    I have looked down the saddest city lane.
    I have passed by the watchman on his beat
    And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

    I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
    When far away an interrupted cry
    Came over houses from another street,

    But not to call me back or say good-bye;
    And further still at an unearthly height,
    [O luminary clock against the sky

    Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
    I have been one acquainted with the night.

    A few others I include under the forum for their nation of origin are:


~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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