SPENSERIAN STANZA, a form of verse which derives its name from the fact that it was invented by the poet Edmund Spenser, and first used in his Faery Queene in 1590. The origin of this stanza has been matter for disagreement among critics of prosody. Schiffer has argued that it was adapted from the old French ballade-stanza (see BALLADE). But it is much more probable that it was of Italian origin, and that Spenser, who was familiar with ottava rima as it had long been employed in Italy, and was at that very time being used by the school of Tasso, added a line between the Italian fourth and fifth, modified slightly the arrangements of rhyme, and added a foot to the last line, which became an Alexandrine. The form of the pure Spenserian stanza can best be observed by the study of a specimen from the Faery Queene:
Into the inmost temple thus I came, Which fuming all with frankincense I found, And odours rising from the altar's flame.
Upon a hundred marble pillars round The roof up high was reared from the ground, All decked with crowns and chains and garlands gay, And thousand precious gifts worth many a pound, The which sad lovers for their vows did pay, And all the ground was strow'd with flowers as fresh as May."
It is necessary to preserve in all respects the characteristics of this example, and the number, regular sequences and identity of rhymes must be followed. It is a curious fact that, in spite of the very great beauty of this stanza and the popularity of Spenser, it was hardly used during the course of the 17th century, although Giles and Phineas Fletcher made for themselves adaptations of it, the former by omitting the eighth line, the latter by omitting the sixth and eighth. In the middle of the 18th century the study of Spenser led poets to revive the stanza which bears his name. The initiators of this reform were Akenside, in The Virtuoso (1737); Shenstone, in The Schoolmistress (1742); and 1 See Conversations with Drummond, Shakespeare Society, pp. 7, 12.
Thomson, in The Castle of Indolence (1748). MrsTighe (1772- 1810) used it for her once-famous epic of Psyche. It was a favourite form at the time of the romantic revival, when it was employed by Campbell, for his Gertrude of Wyoming (1809); by Keats, in The Eve of St Agnes (1820) ; by Shelley, in The Revolt of Islam (Laon and Cythna) (1818) ; by Mrs Hemans; by Reginald Heber; but pre-eminently by Byron, in Childe Harold (1812- 1817). Thomas Cooper, the Chartist, wrote his Purgatory of Suicides (1845) m Spenserian stanza, and Tennyson part of his Lotus Eaters. By later poets it has been neglected, but Worsley and Conington's translation of the Iliad (1865-1868) should be mentioned. The Spenserian stanza is an exclusively English form.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)