Tetractys Verse

The tetractys is a five-lined verse form invented by Ray Stebbings. Its challenge is to express a complete thought within the narrow compass of twenty syllables. The five lines contain the following syllable count: 1, 2, 3, 4, 10. Multiple stanzas are allowed, but the series is reversed and alternated from one stanza to the next.

"Euclid, the mathematician of classical times, considered the number series 1, 2, 3, 4 to have mystical significance because its sum is 10, so he dignified it with a name of its own — tetractys."
      -- Ray Stebbings

A Tetractys Verse

One
Complete
Thought is formed
In just five lines
With a total of twenty syllables.

Reverse the series to add a stanza,
Counting downward,
One per line,
Till there's
One.

Classical Tetractys Verse

A Saturnalian Tetractys

"Io!"
A shout
That resounds
Throughout all Rome
Announces the start of Saturn's season.

It recreates the Golden Age of yore,
A respite that
Does not last
For long
Though.

Aelia: a Tetractys

Four,
No more,
Teeth to risk
Through coughing fits
Was Aelia's plight and Martial's delight.

When they were all gone, he counseled her thus:
"Hack all day long;
Nothing's left
To lose
Now."


[ back to poetry page ]