Diminishing Hexaverse Poetry Form

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Here’s what the Diminishing Hexaverse poetry form is:

Diminishing hexaverse is a simple poem form in which each verse has one less line than the one before it and a number of syllables equal to the number of lines.

There is some contention over whether the first verse should be five or six lines, though the name obviously implies that it should be the latter.

So if you want to learn all about the Diminishing Verse poetry type, then you’ve come to the right place.

Let’s get started!

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Forms of Poetry: Diminishing Hexaverse

Dimhex Is A

Diminishing hexaverse is a unique poem form in which the verses get shorter and shorter as the poem goes on.

The popular variant starts with a five-line verse and then loses a line with each subsequent verse.

Each verse is isosyllabic (containing the same number of syllables per line), with the number of syllables per line matching the number of lines in that verse.

Strangely, the most popular definition of the form actually has nothing to do with the number “six” as the “hexa-” would have you believe, but there is some evidence that the poem may have originally started with a six-line stanza and been bastardized into the form that’s floating around the web now.

Unfortunately, the trail of sites never ends up leading back to the origin of the form, so it’s hard to say whether the form was oddly misnamed from the start or not. 

It’s worth noting that hexaverse would normally refer to a hexastich (a single verse six-line poem) with six syllables on each line.

If we were to use what I believe to be the correct definition, then the poem would therefore start with a hexaverse stanza.

If we go with the popular definition floating around then…maybe the original architect was bad with Greco-Latin prefixes?

Basic Properties of Diminishing Hexaverse

Dimhex Properties
Rhyme StructureUnrhymed
OriginUnknown; seems be from the modern era
PopularityAppears on various online poetry communities
ThemeVaries; lends itself well to “thoughts that trail off”

How Is Diminishing Hexaverse Structured?

Dimhex Structure

The first verse of diminishing hexaverse is the longest.

If we go with the popular definition, then it’s a five-line stanza with five syllables on each line, followed by four with four, and so on.

This naturally results in a final syllable that stands alone.

But frankly, it seems likely that the rarer variant that starts with the six-line stanza came first.

Poets rarely name forms without intent, and there’s no way a writer of even intermediate skill level would mix up the prefixes “hexa-” and “penta-.”

Judi Van Gorder, one of my personal favorite sources for poetry forms, puts it best.

She points out that the form must have been incorrectly described somewhere “and the lemmings followed.”

Amazing phrasing.

This is sadly an accurate depiction of how misinformation spreads among scholars in the first place.

Whatever description you choose to go with, do keep in mind that the poem will always trail off down to less and less syllables per line, leaving less and less wiggle room for the writer to work with.

This makes the form well suited to writing short poems about loss or other topics in which the structure would lend itself to the tone.

It also means the poem will be naturally top-heavy.

By its very nature, the first verse of the poem will always be doing the most work.

Diminishing hexaverse is not intended to be rhymed or metered.

I suppose you could add rhyme if you wanted to, but the general trend is that it remain unrhymed, especially since imposing artificial structures on a form that changes line and verse lengths would be clunky at best.

Funnily enough, each individual verse is isosyllabic, despite the fact that the poem as a whole has so much variance.

If you want to do anything cute with the structure, I would advise you to look for ways to take advantage of that.

As strange as it may sound, both the version starting with six lines and the version starting with five lines can be seen as “correct” right now.

Language is malleable, so if enough people get the original meaning wrong, the meaning of the word just changes to reflect its usage.

So if anyone ever wonders why I have a love-hate relationship with language, that would be the first reason on a very, very long list.

Example of Diminishing Hexaverse

Woman With A Rustic Autumn Floral Crown, Celebrating The Natural Beauty Of The Autumn Season

Would you remain with me,
dreaming of back alleys
and all our good old haunts?
You’ll move on tomorrow
so let me have tonight
just until the sun rises.
When you leave again,
I will not follow.
I know better now
than to chase after
your quiet shadow.
I’ll settle then
for memories
of just this night,
of one more time.
You will leave
with a smile
and again
I will
be alone.

The above poem respects what I believe to be the original definition of the form but do be aware that most sources are going to throw the shorter version of the form at you.

You can visualize that one by just cutting off the top verse from the poem above.

As you can plainly see, the form is reminiscent of a shape poem, in the sense that the form as written on the page has a clear visual identity on the page.

Even before reading the poem, you can get a sense of the way it will melt away at the end.

Aside from the word and line counts, there aren’t any specific requirements baked into the form.

As such, you can write it about any topic, but I find that introspective, nostalgic, and sad poems tend to work best for this one.

Tips for Writing in Diminishing Hexaverse

Dimhex Tips

If you want the poem to be grammatically correct, as in the example above, then that last word will throw you for a loop unless you plan for it in advance.

Even before writing the poem, try to think of a list of one-syllable words that have an impact on their own.

Though not impossible, it would be very, very difficult to write a convincing poem that ends in “and” or “the.”

Abstract nouns and one-syllable adjectives are the most obvious choice, since words like “dead” and “gone” have a blatant and immediate impact, but don’t ignore your options; images and expletives make for good endings, too.

As for the earlier verses, any narrative elements or characters will almost certainly need to be described in the first verse.

Each subsequent stanza becomes more and more fragmentary.

Think of these as the supplementary thoughts trailing off of the main ones.

If it helps, you might visualize the poem as a sort of mental echo.

Here’s what I would call a “diminishing triverse” poem that might help you wrap your head around it:

Thoughts scatter,
more unkempt
at last,

I’m not going to pretend there’s one tried and true “right” way to write any form, though.

If you want to try to go against the grain and save the one concrete image of the poem for the very end, that’s an interesting approach as well.

What matters in poetry, as with any craft, is intentionality.

It’s not about writing the poem perfectly, exactly.

It’s about writing it in such a premeditated way that it feels to the reader as if there was no other way the poem could have been written, because every syllable contributed to the goals of the poem.

The most talented poets can use intentionality to create the illusion of perfection.

To wit, you can swap out the last line of a Shakespearean sonnet with any other line that fulfills the technical limitations of the line.

What makes it work is that it doesn’t feel like you can.

Poet’s Note

Pen lays on paper.

Whenever I write about a short form, there’s a part of me that feels like I’m overexplaining it.

In theory, you could explain the structure of any poem form with a diagram.

The whole article could be a single example with some scansion marks written on it, if we wanted to lean into extremes.

But dear God, that sounds boring.

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