A tailed stanza is a stanza in which two or three lines of verse are followed by a shorter line, this shorter line being known as the tail.
We have tailed rhyme (or tail rhyme) when the first two (or three) lines of a tailed stanza rhyme with each other but not with the tail, while the tails of the different stanzas rhyme with each other. Here, as an example, are two tailed stanzas from Hark! the Mavis by Robert Burns (1759-1796), with the tailed rhymes printed in bold type:
- Yonder Clouden's silent towers,
- Where at moonshine midnight hours
- O'er the dewy bending flowers
- Fairies dance sae cheery.
- Ghaist nor bogle shalt thou fear;
- Thou'rt to Love and Heaven sae dear,
- Nocht of ill may come thee near,
- My bonnie dearie.
Tailed rhyme may take a number of different forms. Sometimes all the tails in a poem rhyme with each other. This is the case in Burns' poem Hark! the Mavis, from which we have already quoted, and another example is 'Ca' the Yowes' by Isobel Pagan (1740-1821), a poem to which Hark! the Mavis is closely related. However, this form of tailed rhyme is relatively uncommon.
More commonly, a poem consists of eight-line stanzas with two rhyming tails in each stanza but without rhyme between the tails of different stanzas. Here, as an example, are the first two stanzas of Agincourt by Michael Drayton (1563-1631):
- Fair stood the wind for France
- When we our sails advance,
- Nor now to prove our chance
- Longer will tarry;
- But putting to the main,
- At Caux, the mouth of Seine,
- With all his martial train
- Landed King Harry.
- And taking many a fort,
- Furnish'd in warlike sort,
- Marcheth tow'rds Agincourt
- In happy hour;
- Skirmishing day by day
- With those that stopp'd his way,
- Where the French gen'ral lay
- With all his power.