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Poetry Guide: Onegin Stanza

Onegin stanza refers to the verse form used by Alexander Pushkin in his interpersonal epic Eugene Onegin. The work is (almost wholly) written in verses of iambic tetrameter with the unusual rhyme scheme "aBaBccDDeFFeGG", where the lowercase letters represent feminine rhymes (i.e., rhymed on the penultimate syllable) and the uppercase representing masculine rhymes (on the final syllable).

Unlike other traditional forms, such as the Petrarchan sonnet or Shakespearean sonnet, the Onegin stanza does not divide into smaller stanzas of four lines or two in an obvious way. There are many different ways the sonnet can be divided; for example the first four lines can form a quartrain or instead join with the "cc" to form a set. The form's flexiblity allows the author more scope to change how the semantic sections are divided from sonnet to sonnet, while keeping the sense of unity provided by keeping a fixed rhyme scheme. Also being written in iambic tetrameter gives the stanzas a stronger rhythm than sonnets which use the more common iambic pentameter.

Jon Stallworthy's 1987 "The Nutcracker" used this stanza form, and Vikram Seth's 1986 novel The Golden Gate is written wholly in Onegin stanzas.

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