Tercets in Poetry: Definitions and Examples

Amanda Knapp, Kara Wilson
  • Author
    Amanda Knapp

    Amanda Knapp has taught and tutored English at the college level for over ten years. She taught English to Chinese children for over two years. She has a Master of Arts degree in English from Northern Illinois University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in advertising from Marquette University where she also minored in marketing and psychology. She has numerous articles and essays published.

  • Instructor
    Kara Wilson

    Kara Wilson is a 6th-12th grade English and Drama teacher. She has a B.A. in Literature and an M.Ed, both of which she earned from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Understand tercets in poetry. Learn the definition of a tercet, discover the different types of tercet poems, and view examples of tercet stanzas in literature. Updated: 12/16/2021

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Tercet: Definition

A tercet is a unit of three lines of poetry. It can be a poem unto itself, or it can occur within a larger poem. A tercet may rhyme, but it does not have to. It does not matter if the three lines are metered or not.

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Types of Tercet Poems

A tercet stanza is a stanza of three lines that occur within a larger poem.

A tercet poem is a three line poem.

A haiku is a tercet poem. There is no set rhyme scheme in a haiku. A triplet is another type of tercet with the rhyme scheme AAA. This means that the last word of each line rhymes. Both an enclosed and a Sicilian tercet have an ABA rhyme scheme. A villanelle is a poem that consists of five tercets and then one quatrain, which is a stanza of four lines. Finally, a terza rima is a tercet with a more complex rhyme scheme: ABA BCB CDC.

Haiku

A haiku may be the type of tercet most people are familiar with. It is defined by its syllabic structure: 5 7 5. The haiku does not need to rhyme, and it is often about nature. It originated in Japan during the 17th century. All haikus are tercets, as a tercet is a three line unit of poetry. However, not all tercets are haikus, as a haiku has strict syllabic requirements.

Triplet

A triplet is a very specific form of tercet in which each line ends with a rhyming word, giving it an AAA rhyme scheme.

Enclosed Tercet

An enclosed tercet is a tercet with an ABA rhyme scheme. This means that the last word of lines 1 and 3 rhyme, but the last word of line 2 does not.

Sicilian Tercet

A Sicilian tercet is a form of an enclosed tercet. It, too, has the ABA rhyme scheme; however, it has the added requirement of being written in iambic pentameter. In a Sicilian tercet, each line contains ten syllables, in which every other syllable is stressed. In other words, it contains five sets of iambs, or five sets of two beats.

Villanelle

As mentioned previously, a villanelle is a poem with five tercets and one quatrain. In addition to specific line requirements, a villanelle also has a specific rhyme scheme. Each tercet has an ABA rhyme scheme, and the quatrain has an ABAA rhyme scheme. In addition, the first and third lines of the first tercet alternate as the refrain in the other lines.

Terza Rima

A Terza Rima is a complex type of poem with an ABA BCB CDC DED rhyme scheme. It is most often, but not always, written in iambic pentameter; although earlier examples often had lines with eleven syllables. It originated in Italy with Dante Alighieri.

The terza rima originated with Dante

Dante

Tercet Examples

Haiku Example

By Matsuo Basho

An old silent pond...

A frog jumps into the pond,

Splash! Silence again.


This example follows the syllabic rule of 5 7 5. It is also about nature, which is a common trait of the haiku.


Triplet Example

“Upon Julia’s Clothes” by Robert Herrick

Whenas in silks my Julia goes,

Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows

The liquefaction of her clothes.


Next, when I cast mine eyes and see

That brave vibration each way free

O how that glittering taketh me!


In this example of triplets in poetry, we see each stanza is a triplet. Therefore, the above poem has an AAA BBB rhyme scheme.


Enclosed Tercet and Sicilian Tercet Example

Robert Frost wrote an example of a Sicilian tercet

Frost

“Acquainted with the Night” by Robert Frost


I have been one acquainted with the night.

I have walked out in rain - and back in rain.

I have outwalked the furthest city light.


I have looked down the saddest city lane.

I have passed by the watchman on his beat

And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.


I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet

When far away an interrupted cry

Came over houses from another street,


But not to call me back or say good-bye;

And further still at an unearthly height,

O luminary clock against the sky


Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.

I have been one acquainted with the night.


In this poem, we can see that Robert Frost used iambic pentameter. He also used the ABA rhyme scheme. That means this is a Sicilian tercet, which is a specific type of enclosed tercet.


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Frequently Asked Questions

What does tercet mean?

A tercet is a three line stanza of poetry. There are multiple different forms of tercets. Some have specific rhyme scheme requirements and some must be written in iambic pentameter.

What is the difference between haiku and tercet?

A tercet is a three line stanza of poetry. A haiku is a specific form of tercet with a syllabic requirement of 5 7 5. A haiku is usually about nature, but it does not have to be.

What is the difference between tercet and triplet?

A tercet is a three line stanza of poetry. A triplet is a form of tercet in which there is an AAA rhyme scheme.

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