The Tetractys

Deviation Actions

poetic-forms's avatar

Literature Text

The tetractys, made famous by Pythagoras, has become a modern poetry form. Ten was thought to be a number of power, and by having the lines leading up to the last line equal ten, it seemed logical for the creator of the tetractys poetry form to name it such.

A tetractys has in total, five lines. The syllables are as follows:

First Line - 1 syllable
Second Line - 2 syllables
Third Line - 3 syllables
Fourth Line - 4  syllables
Fifth Line - 10 syllables

In any formatting, it gives a triangle shape. It can be reversed, starting with the ten lines, and moving downwards for a "reversed tetractys." There are also what is called "double tetractys" in which two you have a tetractys followed immediately by a second tetractys. A normal tetractys followed by a reversed tetractys would give you a diamond shape.

There is no set rhyme scheme for a tetractys, you can choose to rhyme or not. Here are two examples from Ray Stebbing, who credits himself with coming up with this form:

on tiny feet -
as any ballerina, light and neat.


ringing -
tidal sound
leaving ears clean
as white sand washed by retreating waters.

A tetractys should present a complete thought from start to finish. It can be comedic or serious, stating an abstract thought (though complete) or teaching us a lesson.

Two examples of a double tetractys from Ray Stebbing:

on a strand
as frail as fine
as a migrating spider's silken line.
As windblown, random, as subject to chance,
our short days drift -
on thin threads

Epitaph for Everyman

He lived a long life filled with good intent
but often found
his meanings
With misconceptions hapless lives are fraught,
what others hear
so seldom

The Perfect Tetractys
from Ray Stebbing

The perfect tetractys would satisfy all the following criteria:
1. the correct syllable count,
2. meaningful words (e.g. not the, a , an) in the single-syllable line,
3. line breaks that make sense, ie. conform to normal syntax, not separating words that quite obviously form a unit of meaning.
(If 2 and 3 did not apply, writing a tetractys would merely involve taking a twenty-syllable line and chopping it arbitrarily into the requisite lengths - it doesn't take a poet to do that!)
In addition to these the normal criteria for good poetry apply:
4. effective use of imagery,
5. effective choice of words,
6. appeal to the ear, certainly by rhythm, possibly by use of other sound effects (rhyme, alliteration etc),
7. and lastly, and most importantly, appeal to the intellect and the emotions; moving the reader to laughter, tears, deep thought, anger...
A modern poetry form, that is succinct in imagery, as well as beautiful to look at.

© 2004 - 2022 poetic-forms
Join the community to add your comment. Already a deviant? Log In