Poets Online Archive
June 2004

Tercets are any three lines of poetry, whether as a stanza or as a poem, rhymed or unrhymed, metered or unmetered.
The form has Italian roots. Dante's The Divine Comedy is a common example. It uses three line stanzas with every first and third line ending with a rhyme. (This is known as "enclosed" as the rhyming lines enclose an unrhymed line - the scheme being aba. Get really classical and use iambic pentameter and you have a sicilian tercet. Fancier still - interlock enclosed tercets by having the middle line rhyming with the first and third lines of the following stanza so that the pattern is aba bcb cdc ded ...)

Percy Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind"  is another famous example:

O Wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being—
Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes!—O thou
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The J.D. McClatchy poem, A Winter Without Snow, which we used a s a model, is in the tercet form but without rhyme.

On the simpler side, a haiku is also a tercet poem.

The butterfly is perfuming
Her wings in the scent
Of the orchid.

But the variation on the tercet we asked our visitors to attempt is the TRIAD. Its origins are Irish and Welsh. (Some Arthurian legends use this form. The Irish shamrock is a triad and the number 3 was considered by the Welsh & Irish as a powerful number - some of its power coming from the Catholic concept of the Trinity) A triad is a poem composed of three tercets (9 lines) and is also a poem in which the content of the poem is a consideration of three things and their effect on a single person. So you are working without a net here - no model triad to follow. Form prompts always seem to prove a bit more difficult - if we can measure by the reduced number of submissions - so we hope you are willing to take up the challenge. Perhaps, you will even try the enclosed tercet form.

J. D. McClatchy - born: Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania,1945.
He is the author and editor of many books of essays, poet biographies, collections
and his own poetry which includes: Hazmat, Ten Commandments, The Rest of the Way, Stars Principal,
and Scenes from Another Life.
  Since 1991 he has been editor of The Yale Review, and he served
as a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets from 1996 to 2003. He lives in Stonington, Connecticut.



I started a poem the other day.
I’d write a triad
About my feelings of sliding away

Down the slippery slope of friendship.
As our distance apart increases,
Before the last quarter drops, our words trip

Over each other trying to touch.
Until finally, I imagine separate futures.
But the closeness returns at lunch.

Ellen Kaplan


Outside my window, a silky trembling mouse
stopped and looked at me as if I would,
if he stared intently, invite him into my house.

Dear mouse, at my home in the old neighborhood
the solid oaks that sheltered my earliest dreams
have been cut down and used for firewood.

How can I tell you, sweet mouse, what today seems
secure, promises shelter and maybe food
is ephemeral, no more substantial than moonbeams?

Marvin Lurie



This river will lose itself when it reaches the sea
if it doesn't wash its identity
before that in some larger flowing.

Not the death of a river
except perhaps to a writer
but certainly a part of the larger whole.

Oh, I am not the first
to ask this river flowing east.
But I am the only one you heard.

Charles Michaels



I beat Sheldon up for a dime. Jewish kids were sissies.
I didn't know what Jewish was: I needed love
and Sheldon knew words none of us could spell.

But on the playground no one wanted him;
We laughed to see him cry: his mother, unlike our mothers
who wore housedresses and pink curlers,

wore jewelry and high heels. Now Jimmy's pumping gas,
his father beat him after school, and Scott works second shift, And drinks and smokes all day. But Sheldon works on human hearts.

Mark Hillringhouse



"Suzanne takes you down to her place by the river . . .
And you know that she's half crazy . . .
And you want to travel with her
."         Leonard Cohen

The chaos in her mind unspoken, disquieting,
like a murder of crows that sit and watch,
sit and watch.

Nothing was said.
Everything was said.
And the chaos in her tomb

unspoken, disquieting,
blackbirds that took flight
when stones were thrown.



And he's correct.
There must be more beyond.
My imagination ventures out past what I know.

Standing in this field watching lightning,
I am no wiser than that prehistoric
who stood here before me.

If there's a finite velocity to light,
there must be a last blossom to open,
a final breath and the pain ends.

Ken Ronkowitz



Conception flickers like a coin's last spin.
The chances Mei'll be male are just and even.
Then dark hands pull her to the feminine.

Tradition's weight becomes the parents' reason:
"We'd keep you for our own, but laws and fines
Will halt our lines, our family's future season."

Adopting parents hope (again!) and find her.
And Mei, now May, is moving through the night,
With luck, loose goat, still wandering behind her.

Peter Goudaman


The wind began to blow and whisper in my ear
The wind known of its devotion of chaos as king
What else could I expect but devastation and fear

I stood silent as the wind began in my direction
All to envision the turbulent roar that it could bring
I could only pray to the lord please make a correction

Alter this wind with its promise of devastation
In place of the turbulence that that bad winds will sing
Whisper only to me a tranquil breeze of frustration

George Semper



my husband snores
in the bedroom
next to ours

both of us old now
divided by radiation
promising a cure

though in our minds
we are still young
and radiant in love

Ruth Zimmerman



They’ve put a power-gate across our road.
We live secure here, locked inside; punch
the keypad numbers, the bar swings free.

Our neighbor’s confined now to a gurney-bed,
his lungs like punctured tires. Dying,
he lies among plucked feather comforters.

Safe and free. A phoebe flashes overhead.
What do birds care for metal barriers?
Take in sky with every breath you breathe.

Taylor Graham



MATTER is the stuff with which I deal.
No ‘matter’ what I touch or see or smell,
it is always there and very real.

It’s up to me to give it lasting FORM
as I consider how to do it well
within some regulating artful norm.

To tempt my SPIRIT toward a selfish truth,
however, there is heaven, and there’s hell
denying one or other - toward ‘uncouth.’

Catherine M. LeGault



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