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Understanding Poetry: Terza Rima

In the 13th century, poet Dante Alighieri created the fixed form terza rima to compose his famous three part poem of The Divine Comedy. This Italian form is typically written in iambic pentameter, but iambic tetrameter can be used too. The rhyme scheme of aba, bcb, cdc, ded is used, with an 11 syllable count for each line. In a variation of the terza rima the sonnet form has the rhyme scheme of aba, bcb, cdc, ded, ee, still using the 11 syllable count for each line. Translation of Dante have created many other forms of the terza rima, some altering the tercet to an ending couplet. There is no specific number of lines which the poem can have altogether, but if additional lines are used, they should all be of equal length.

Image Credit: Domenico di Michelino, La Divina Commedia di Dante (Dante and the Divine Comedy). 1465 fresco, in the dome of the church of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence


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