by George J. Dance

About Poetry
Poetry • Outline • Explication

Theme • Plot • Style
Character • Setting • Voice
Writer • Writer's block

Poetic diction

Imagery • Figures of speech
Metaphor • Simile
Homeric simile
Personification • Pathetic fallacy
Synecdoche  • Metonymy
Conceit • Extended metaphor
Allegory • Motif • Symbol
Pun • Double entendre
Ambiguity • Idiom


Alliteration • Assonance
Consonance • Rhyme
Repetition • Refrain


Line • Enjambment • Caesura
Foot • Meter • Verse • Stanza

Verse forms

Epic • Narrative • Lyric • Ode
Dramatic monologue • Ballad
Blank verse • Heroic couplets
Sestina • Sonnet • Villanelle
List of poetic forms

Modern poetry

Free verse • Prose poetry
Haiku in English • Tanka

Much, much more ...

Collaborative poetry
Glossary of poetry terms
How to - topics


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A line is a unit of language into which verse (as in poetry or drama) is divided. Division into lines was traditionally based on principles of meter, that are separate and distinct from structures based on grammar, semantics, or syntax, such as paragraphs, sentences, or clauses. Unlike those other units of language, lines of verse are based not on words but on feet (which are built up independently from syllables).

A line in poetry was traditionally known as a verse . Although "verse" can still be used as a synonym for a single line of meter (as in the 1913 definition given below), it now tends to be used to signify poetry in general that has metrical form. "Verse" should never be used to signify a line of Free verse or open form poetry.

The earliest known use of line in poetry is the shloka, used to compose classical Sanskrit poetry such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata. One of the most common of traditional lines in (surviving) classical Latin and Greek prosody was the hexameter. The most famous and widely used line of verse in English prosody is iambic pentameter.

Pioneers of the verseless line of modern poetry include Whitman and Apollinaire.


Line (line) n.

7. A verse, or the words which form a certain number of feet, according to the measure. "In the preceding line Ulysses speaks of Nausicaa."? Broome.[1]


Where one line starts, and another begins, is called a line break.

The last word before the break is called its line's end word.

General conventions in Western poetryEdit

In Western literary traditions, use of line is the most obvious feature that distinguishes poetry from prose. But division into lines has not always been done the same way. In Old English poetry (a form of accentual verse), line lengths were determined by count of accents, or stressed syllables. In French poetry (a type of syllabic verse), they were determined by count of all syllables. The compromise system that grew out of those 2 systems to become English poetry was accentual-syllabic verse, in which lines are determined by a count of feet. Monometer was verse (lines) of 1 foot in length, dimeter of 2, trimeter of 3, and so on.

In accentual-syllabic verse, a foot is a unit containing either 2 or 3 syllables, of which (normally) 1 is a stressed syllable. For example, an iambic foot (or iamb) was made up of 2 syllables, in which the 2nd was stressed, while a dactylic foot was made of 3 syllables, of which the 1st was stressed. So a line of pentameter (5 feet long) could have either 10 or 15 syllables.

In rhyming verse, rhyme was used to marked line breaks. This was effective even in oral poetry, where the line breaks themselves could not be seen. Another convention traditionally used to convey a sense of line in printed settings was capitalization of the first letter of the first word of each line, regardless of other punctuation in the sentence (called 'majusculation').


Main article: stanza

A separate and distinct group of lines within a verse poem is called a stanza . Stanzas can range from 2 lines (a couplet) to 14 (a quatorzain). The most common numbers of lines in stanzas are 3 (tercet), 4 (quatrain), and 5 (quintain). Stanza break is similar in meaning to line break: the place where one stanza ends and another begins.

Lines without meterEdit

In many if not most free verse or non-verse poems, where meter or rhyme is only occasionally evident or altogether absent, the convention of division into lines continues to be observed, at least in written representations. In such writing, simple visual appearance on a page (or any other written layout) remains sufficient to determine poetic line, and this sometimes leads to a "charge" that the work in question is "chopped up prose".[2]

In more "free" forms, and in free verse in particular, conventions for the use of line become, arguably, more arbitrary and more visually determined such that they may only be properly apparent in typographical representation and/or page layout. One extreme deviation from a conventional rule for line can occur in concrete poetry where the primacy of the visual component may over-ride or subsume poetic line in the generally regarded sense, or sound poems in which the aural component stretches the concept of line beyond any purely semantic coherence. At another extreme, the so-called prose poem simply dispenses with poetic line altogether.

Dropped lines Edit

A dropped line is a line broken into 2 or more parts, with subsequent parts indented to remain visually sequential. When counting the lines in a stanza or a poem, the parts of a dropped line should be counted as 1 line only.

Quoting line breaksEdit

Short quotations of poetry can be written in quotes with line breaks indicated by the forward slash (/). For example: "...What in me is dark,/ Illumine! what is low, raise and support!"(Milton, Paradise Lost). A stanza break can be indicated by the forward slash doubled (//).

See alsoEdit


  1. "Line," Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, Web, July 6, 2011.
  2. See [1] for an example.

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