A stanza - pronounced STAN-zer, IPA: /ˈstænzə/ - is a group of lines of verse which form a unit or short subdivision of a poem. Most commonly in English poetry a stanza will have four, six, or eight lines, though stanzas with other numbers of lines are sometimes found. In traditional poetry the lines in a stanza will conform to a specific metre and rhyme scheme, and all the stanzas in a poem will have the same metre and rhyme scheme. It is conventional in writing or printing a poem to leave a gap between the stanzas.
By way of illustration here are the three stanzas which make up one of the poems in A Shropshire Lad, a collection of poems by A.E. Housman (1860-1936) published in 1896. You will see that each stanza consists of four lines, each line is an iambic tetrameter, and each stanza has the rhyme scheme a-a-b-b.
- Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
- Is hung with bloom along the bough,
- And stands about the woodland ride
- Wearing white for Eastertide.
- Now, of my threescore years and ten,
- Twenty will not come again,
- And take from seventy springs a score,
- It only leaves me fifty more.
- And since to look at things in bloom
- Fifty springs are little room,
- About the woodlands I will go
- To see the cherry hung with snow.
The word verse is sometimes used with the same meaning as stanza, but since the word verse has a number of different meanings - see Verse - disambiguation - it is preferable in literary studies to use stanza rather than verse in order to avoid misunderstanding. In musical contexts, however, e.g., with songs and hymns, verse rather than stanza is the word normally used.