The Dozzet: A Poetical Form
Our readers may have noticed that many of our poems are described as “dozzets”. Like the sonnet, the villanelle, and other forms, this is a very specific descriptor meaning a very specific thing: a poem with a certain meter, a certain number of lines, and a certain rhyme scheme.
Here, and throughout this explanation, we will use the commonly accepted symbols “˘” (a “breve” or “brevis”) for an unstressed syllable and “´” (an “acute”) for a stressed syllable.
The dozzet is made up of lines of iambic hexameter, both of which words need explanation. Iambic means that each poetical foot, or unit, of the line is an iamb: a syllable with a stress pattern of stressed unstressed, or “˘ ´”. The hexameter (“hex” + “meter”) means that each line consists of six iambic feet. The whole line, then, has the following stress pattern:
We sometimes describe unstressed and stressed syllables in the form of “duh” and ”DAH”, making this line sound like “duh DAH duh DAH duh DAH duh DAH duh DAH duh DAH”. An example of such a line:
It can help to read this stress pattern with great exaggeration a few times to see what we mean:
But this should serve just to help comprehension; the line itself should be read naturally, as the stress pattern should be natural to the words. Iambs are very natural to English (though not, of course, exclusively, and other meters can be very powerful in our language), and a well-formed line should have natural-sounding stress patterns. A line that must be pronounced abnormally in order to fit the stress pattern is a badly-formed one.
Of course, there is some variation permitted in this pattern. Occasionally, the trochee will appear; trochaic feet are one stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one, essentially the opposite of an iamb. Trochees should only appear in the first foot, if at all. Stressed syllables may also be pushed back, resulting in a pyrhhic foot (two unstressed syllables) followed by a spondee (two stressed syllables). However, the iamb is by far the most common foot.
Also, similar to what we often see in iambic pentameter, it is possible for a line to end with an extra, unstressed syllable; these are called weak lines or feminine lines (I didn't choose the name). Most commonly this is the syllable “-ing”:
However, to our knowledge, Donald Goodman is the only poet writing dozzets, and he does not use such lines.
Dozzets also rhyme; that is, the ends of the lines typically end with some pattern of matching vowel and consonant sounds. Weak or imperfect rhymes, where the final vowel sounds match but the final consonants do not, are not used in dozzets.
Rhyme schemes are defined using letters to represent the varying final patterns, beginning with “a” for the first, “b” for the second, and so on. Because of the way rhymes encourage lines to go together, different schemes encourage different feels, some of which we will explore in a moment.
The most common rhyme schemes for dozzets are the Shakespearean pattern (because it is modeled after that in Shakespearean sonnets) and the Petrarchan pattern (because it is modeled after that in Petrarchan sonnets):
An example of this scheme is The Dandelion, the first dozzet ever written. It is given to a short, clear conclusion due to the final couplet (two rhyming lines): “Her slender stem holds up the sun's own majesty; / but she nods towards the earth, with whom she one must be”. So Shakespearean dozzets tend to set up a situation or contemplation in the first eight lines; transition in the next two; then conclude in the last two. This is not mandatory, but the rhyme scheme makes this a common and convenient pattern.
This was the original rhyme scheme for dozzets.
An example of this rhyme scheme is Lead us to the East. The first two quatrains (groups of four lines), because they rhyme with one another and are connected, in lines four and five, with the same rhyme, always tend to go together. The final four lines, featuring no concluding couplet, defies the short, simple conclusion that we often see in Shakespearean dozzets, and thus typically draws out more extended contemplation of that conclusion. Once again, these patterns are not mandatory, but the rhyme scheme makes them common and convenient.
Other rhyme schemes are, of course, possible. In Finite Infinity, we used a very simple one which combines some of the virtues of both:
In Trapped, the Shakespearean and Petrarchan forms are quite literally combined:
Sometimes, a little extra will serve the needs of the poem best, and so a concluding couplet will be added; e.g., in Blackness of the Sun:
All in all, the rhyme schemes for the dozzet present a very fertile field for poetic insight.
There have also been written a number of long-form dozzets, in which the dozzet serves as stanzas in long poems. The longest of these is The Hero's Tale, a long pseudo-epic made up of ninety Shakespearean dozzets. The dozzet form is very fruitful for this type of form, as well; and though The Hero's Tale is the longest example, there are several others that can be found among out poetry.
We hope that you will enjoy reading our dozzets and writing your own. Poetry in this form can be truly enlightening to compose.