Many free verse poems have "sections" or "divisions" within them that may be numbered or set off by a group of three marks. I'm wondering if there's a term for these sections.

In some poems, the sections can be read as discrete, autonomous poems themselves. The closest I have found is canto, however this only seems to apply to long, epic poems, not short modern poems.

For example, "Grayed In" by Martha Collins has 31 numbered sections, here are the first two:


Snow fallen, another going
gone, new come in, open
the door:
          each night I grow
young, my friends are well
again, my life is all
before me,
          each morning
I close a door, another door.


Cloud on cloud, gray
on gray, snow fallen

on snow, tree on tree
on unleafed tree—

only a river silvered
with thin ice and a slash
of gold in the late gray sky.

Is there a term other than "section" for 1 and 2 above?

4 Answers 4


I have never seen "verse' used to refer to a group of stanzas. On the other hand, the numbered sections in the question are short enough that I would be inclined to call each one a single stanza or verse.

The term "canto" can be used for divisions of a poem, but I have only seen it used for rather long sections of a quite long poem, not the sort of thing in the question. The Hunting of the Snark was subtitled "An Agony in Eight fits" and each section was called a "fit", but that seems to have been a unique usage for that one poem, and in any case those fits each included scores of stanzas, and each covered quite a few pages. Not quite the same thing.

I have seen long narrative poems divided into 'Chapters" or "books" or "parts" as a more modern equivalent of "cantos", but that would hardly seem to fit the example in the question. I think "section" would really be the best option of any that have occured to me.


According to Poetry Express (https://www.poetryexpress.org/poetry-writing-tips/stanza-breaks),

in free verse poems, stanzas of irregular size can be called "verse paragraphs."

Though in your example, the first two stanzas are both 9 lines (including blank lines) which makes regular stanzas from what I can see, albeit I have not seen the rest of the poem.

  • That's a good find, but I think it's a narrower term than "section." This page has an expanded definition of "verse paragraph" with examples. The definition is "A group of verse lines that make up a single rhetorical unit." "The titled sections of Robert Pinsky’s 'Essay on Psychiatrists' demarcate shifts in focus and argument much as prose paragraphs would." The page reinforces "sections" as meaning a grouping of verses.
    – jaycer
    Commented Jun 5, 2019 at 16:28

I've come across three references that use "sections" to refer to groups of stanzas.

  1. The Poetry Foundation's page for the poem says "Of Being Numerous: Sections 1-22."

  2. Robert Pinsky quotes "the fifth section" of "Of Being Numerous" in Democracy, Culture, and the Voice Of Poetry, page 24.

  3. This glossary entry for "Verse paragraph" refers to "titled sections" of Robert Pinsky's "Essay on Psychiatrists."

I don't know if there is another word that has the same meaning as "section," but these sources convince me that it isn't an informal term. But it is odd that it is omitted from various poetry reference materials.


'Verse' is commonly used, although there may be some confusion as to whether it refers to the numbered sections or the sections separated by blank spaces in your example.

  • Could you share a reference for your answer? I've looked online and in a print book, and I can't find anything that says a verse may refer to a group of stanzas.
    – jaycer
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 13:22

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