Poetry Guide: Strophe
Strophe (Greek στροφή, turn, bend, twist, see also phrase) is a term in versification which properly means a turn, as from one foot to another, or from one side of a chorus to the other.
A strophe is also the part of the ode that the Chorus chants as it moves from right to left across the stage.
In its precise choral significance a strophe was a definite section in the structure of an ode, when, as in Milton's famous phrase in the preface to Samson Agonistes, "strophe, antistrophe and epode were a kind of stanzas framed only for the music."
In a more general sense, the strophe is a pair of stanzas of alternating form on which the structure of a given poem is based. In modern poetry the strophe usually becomes identical with the stanza, and it is the arrangement and the recurrence of the rhymes which give it its character. But the ancients called a combination of verse-periods a system, and gave the name strophe to such a system only when it was repeated once or more in unmodified form.
It is said that Archilochus first created the strophe by binding together systems of two or three lines. But it was the Greek ode-writers who introduced the practice of strophe-writing on a large scale, and the art was attributed to Stesichorus, although it is probable that earlier poets were acquainted with it. The arrangement of an ode in a splendid and consistent artifice of strophe, antistrophe and epode was carried to its height by Pindar.
With the development of Greek prosody, various peculiar strophe-forms came into general acceptance, and were made celebrated by the frequency with which leading poets employed them. Among these were the Sapphic, the Elegiac, the Alcaic and the Asclepiadean strophe, all of them prominent in Greek and Latin verse. The briefest and the most ancient strophe is the dactylic distich, which consists of two verses of the same class of rhythm, the second producing a melodic counterpart to the first.
The forms in modern English verse which reproduce most exactly the impression aimed at by the ancient odestrophe are the elaborate rhymed stanzas of such poems as Keats' Ode to a Nightingale or Matthew Arnold's The Scholar-Gipsy.
This article incorporates text from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, a publication in the public domain.