A tercet is a complete poem or a stanza of just three lines.[1] English-language haiku is an example of a tercet.

A tercet in which all three lines rhyme (a-a-a) is called a triplet . Triplets are rather rare; they are more customarily used sparingly in verse of heroic couplets or other rhyming couplets, to conclude a stanza or to add extraordinary emphasis.[2]

Other types of tercet include an enclosed tercet where the lines rhyme in an a-b-a pattern and terza rima where the enclosed pattern of a stanza is continued in the next by having the outer lines of the next stanza rhyme with the central line of the preceding one (a-b-a, b-c-b, ...) as in the terza rima or terzina form of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. There has been much investigation of the possible sources of the Dantesque terzina, which Benedetto Croce characterised as "linked, enclosed, disciplined, vehement and yet calm".[3] William Baer observes of the tercets of terza rima, "These interlocking rhymes tend to pull the listener's attention forward in a continuous flow.... Given this natural tendency to glide forward, terza rima is especially well-suited to narration and description".[4]

The tercet also forms part of the villanelle, where the initial five stanzas are tercets, followed by a concluding quatrain.

A tercet may also form the separate halves of the ending sestet in a Petrarchan sonnet, where the rhyme scheme is abbaabba cdccdc, as in Longfellow's "Cross of Snow". For example, while "Cross of Snow" is indeed a Petrarchan sonnet, it does not follow the form of abbabba cdcdc. Instead, its form is abba cddc efg efg. A tercet also ends sestinas where the keywords of the lines before are repeated in a highly ordered form.

The tercet was introduced into English poetry by Sir Thomas Wyatt in the 16th century. It was employed by Shelley and is the form used in Byron's The Prophecy of Dante.[5]

See alsoEdit

Notes Edit

  1. William Baer, Writing metrical poetry: contemporary lessons for mastering traditional forms, 2006, "Chapter 9: The Tercet" pp 128ff.
  2. Baer 2006.
  3. Croce, (M.E. Moss, tr.) Essays on Literature and Literary Criticism, 1990, "Dante's poetry", p 290.
  4. Baer 2006, p. 130.
  5. Noted by William Rose Benet, The Reader's Encyclopedia, 1948, s.v. "tercet", "terza rima"

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