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Poetry Guide: Habbie Stanza

The habbie stanza (or hobbie stanza) is a popular stanza among Scottish poets.

The first notable poem written in this stanza was the "Lament for Habbie Simpson" by Robert Sempill of Beltrees. The stanza was used frequently by major 18th century Lowland Scots poets such as Robert Fergusson and Robert Burns, and has also been used by subsequent poets. Major poems in the stanza include Burns's To a Louse, Address to the Deil and Death and Doctor Hornbook. The stanza is six lines long and rhymes aaabab, with tetrameter a lines and dimeter b lines. The second b line may or may not be repeated.

Although the "Lament for Habbie" itself is strictly lyrical, subsequent uses have tended to be comic and satirical. The stanza is naturally suited to comic rhymes, as the quoted passage from Burns shows:

O THOU! whatever title suit thee—
Auld Hornie, Satan, Nick, or Clootie,
Wha in yon cavern grim an' sootie,
Clos'd under hatches,
Spairges about the brunstane cootie,
To scaud poor wretches!
Hear me, auld Hangie, for a wee,
An' let poor damned bodies be;
I'm sure sma' pleasure it can gie,
Ev'n to a deil,
To skelp an' scaud poor dogs like me,
An' hear us squeel!
--"Address to the Deil"