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Poetic Form: Sapphic Verse

Updated on September 10, 2013
M-O-O-N spells Tom.
M-O-O-N spells Tom. | Source

Sapphic Form

There was some woman back in ancient Greece named Sappho who wrote poetry a certain way. You don’t remember her? Neither do I. But to really get a handle on rhythm in poetry, you might try writing some Sapphic verse.

The Sapphic form is made up of four-line stanzas. Strictly speaking, each of the first three lines has eleven syllables that go like this:

Line 1,2, and 3:

_ . _ . _.. _. _.

(dah di dah di dah di di dah di dah di)

The last line has five syllables and goes like this:

Line 4:

_ .. _ .

(dah di di dah di)

Let’s write an example of Sapphic form, shall we?

Love bereft a lover's embrace, disdaining

Comfort's vain rebuke, disregards the friendly

Face without a welcome, preferring rather

Solitude’s silence

Silence welcomes lovers whose love has ended

As a tree beloved for shade will welcome

Strangers who return from their travels weary,

Needful of respite

Let them rest in silence’s shady bower

Far away from passion’s inferno hidden

‘Til the fiery sunset of love’s horizon

Darkens and cools down

Let their sore hearts resting in silent darkness

Heal from passion’s angry and painful burning

Punish not with comfort, entreat no soothing

Silence will heal

Notice how the triplet beat in the middle breaks up the otherwise relentless marching feel it would otherwise have. This is the essence of using rhythm in poetry.

Let’s try another one:

Some say life is only illusion, playthings

We, existing only to please immortal

(Yet with somehow human characteristics)

Beings who scare us

Be they Hairy Thunderer, caring God or

Cosmic Muffin, deities crowding round us

Painting guilty all our meanderings and

Forcing our worship

Kind of an heretical haiku. Ah, well. Let’s do sad:


Overflowing wells filled with only sadness

Steal my breath and still all my worldly madness

With morosely tenderized passions laden

There all my tremblings

Ending hopes and daydreams that sorely taunt me

Knowing that my dreams only ever daunt me

Now in my futility finding that my

Thinking was just this

All I hoped and everything I said and did

When older and also when I was younger

Dust and only dust, whether any poem

I wrote was read, or

Whether anyone, enemy or lover

Or those future someones who may discover

Ever understood any word I ever

Uttered, created

Wrote upon a page, these rote verses crying

Tears that fill the swells of my sadness, dying

Words of mediocrity I displayed so

Proudly and loudly

Swirling ‘round me slowly, my apathetic

Stasis breeds a maelstrom of misspent scribbling

Drowning, inundating and smothering to

Silence eternal

Buried I forever shall be, cadaver

Over which a headstone expresses, “Here lies

Mediocrity. He wrote poems, however

None were remembered.”

My goodness! Where did that come from? Guess I’ll schedule an appointment with my therapist, or perhaps head down to the bar.

Using the Sapphic form rigidly can feel rather constricting, but if you take the lessons learned therein and apply them to your free verse, you will have gained control of the rhythm of your poetry – although there is something to be said for poetry that is out of control, too.

Bottom line: have fun. :)


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    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 6 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      This is so useful and interesting.. I really enjoyed this. I learned something today. thank you for researching and writing this.. very inspiring..I voted up

    • sligobay profile image

      sligobay 6 years ago from east of the equator

      Thank you for accepting my poetic response in the context of education and not taking offense at the effort.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 6 years ago from United States

      Thank you for honoring my humble effort. :)

    • sligobay profile image

      sligobay 6 years ago from east of the equator

      Death befalls a woman's trellace, come winter

      Vibrant vines succumb to chilling autumn winds

      Depleted water drains beauty from Venus

      Hibernating bloom.


      Thanks Tom for the lesson and inspiration.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 6 years ago from United States

      I'm just a little upset that no one voted for Walter Mitty. Always the Thurber fan, I am. Thanks so much, Doug! That major compliment means a lot coming from you.

    • profile image

      Doug Turner Jr. 6 years ago

      Sapphic is a terrifyingly difficult form, yet you take off running with it like a deer in open field. Impressive and interesting hub.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 6 years ago from United States

      Thanks, Hound Cat!! You know, proficiency is not really necessary. Just like a good crossword puzzle increases your vocabulary, a strict form like this exercises those poetic muscles. Happy writing and thank you!

    • Hound Cat profile image

      Hound Cat 6 years ago from Los Angeles area of Southern California USA

      Reading this excellent hub is a real learning experience. I am not sure if I will be able to learn proficiently this form of poetic verse, but maybe with some research. Thanks for sharing.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 6 years ago from United States

      Thanks very much, Ruby. Having people learn a little something from what I write is just as fun as having people dance to music I play. So thanks again!

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 6 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I'm amazed at the many ways to write poetry. I always learn something new from you and i thank you for that..

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 6 years ago from United States

      That's great, Paul! Please let me know when you post a poem.

      Thanks so much, Sestasik. Poetic form is at least as fun as Sudoku :)

      And I love to play at teaching, Candie! Thank you

    • Candie V profile image

      Candie V 6 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

      Tom!! I always always learn something new from you!!

    • profile image

      sestasik 6 years ago

      Great article. Kudos for taking what, to some, is a dry subject and bring it to life with a fun, almost tongue-in-cheek approach.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 6 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      This kind of poetry is very interesting. I have never written any poetry now, but now I think I'm ready to start after reading this hub. Excellent hub!