Terza rima ('third rhyme' in Italian) is a three-line rhyme scheme first used by Dante in The Divine Comedy. The form of it goes like this: A-B-A, B-C-B, C-D-C, D-E-D etc., ending with a single line or couplet repeating the rhyme of the middle line of the final tercet, i.e. E-F-E, F or E-F-E, FF. The first English poet to write in terza rima was Geoffrey Chaucer, and other poets who later employed the form include Milton, Byron, Shelley, Hardy, Auden, William Carlos Williams, TS Eliot, Derek Walcott, Robert Frost and Philip Larkin.
I've just attempted a poem written in terza rima and it's reproduced below. Whether or not it's anything more than an academic exercise, I'll leave it to you to judge. However, I think my lines of loose iambic pentameter (most terza rima uses iambic pentameter) suit the walking nature of the poem, and perhaps the constriction of the rhyme scheme helps focus and distil the liberating, quasi-mystical experience which the poem walks towards. The poem is based on a real experience in a real place and in a real time.
Woolacombe, Summer 1966
I stood tip-toe upon a little hill,
The air was cooling, and so very still…
Mum, dad, my sister: deckchairs on the sand,
dozing and dreaming, deep into paperbacks.
I sidle off into a hinterland
of huddled pubs and chip shops. Tarmac tracks
take me past pool rooms, penny arcades,
beach balls, bikinis and bathing shacks,
ice cream emporia, cheap colonnades
of empty restaurants, forlorn cafés,
sea-life aquaria, and stunted glades
of palm trees pining for hotter days.
Then, on a greener path, I leave the town,
follow the bay’s curve through a grey-green haze
of spiky marram grass, a shifting brown
massif of dunes, make for the modest height
of Potter’s Hill, where I fling myself down
on the cropped turf, in the sun’s sinking light:
feel burning solace, like the release of art,
find airy freedom in the seagull’s flight;
and something captive in my twelve-year heart
breaks out of childhood — now an age apart.
Read the first issue of my new poetry magazine, The Passionate Transitory, here.