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A Tetractys Poem


Recently, fellow poet Kat Appel alerted me to the existence of Tetractys poems. I was intrigued. I like to explore poetry in many forms, so this presented as an exciting poetic prospect. I went in search of deeper knowledge...

Tetractys, is a poetic form invented by Ray Stebbing.  It consists of at least 5 lines of 1, 2, 3, 4, 10 syllables (total of 20). They can be written with more than one verse, but must follow suit with an inverted syllable count. Tetractys can also be reversed and written 10, 4, 3, 2, 1. This makes the Tetractys a most versatile form of poetry.

Double Tetractys: 1, 2, 3, 4, 10, 10, 4, 3, 2, 1

Triple Tetractys: 1, 2, 3, 4, 10, 10, 4, 3, 2, 1, 1, 2, 3, 4, 10

and on it goes...

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.

The challenge  of a Tetractys is to express a complete thought, profound or comic, witty or wise, within the narrow compass of twenty syllables. so, here's my double Tetractys. 

It's a poem that came to life observing people on Seminyak Beach in Bali recently. Hope you can find a space for a Tetractys poem in your repertoire too.

Observations On A Bali Beach

Pass by.
Beach people,
Brown, eroded.
Striders and strollers, hugging the shoreline.
The tanned and freckled, the scabby and scorched.
Most are barfeoot.
Some wear hats.
Some take


  1. I've had such fun reading the recent tetractys poems! My favorite line here--"The tanned and freckled, the scabby and scorched." Ew and ouch!

    1. Thanks Molly. Must admit to having a particular like for that line. It was fun in the making.

  2. I like the tightness of the form, the need to get it 'just right', which you did, Alan. The words Molly highlighted are so good, remind me of the beaches in my summers, too. I didn't know the term went back to Euclid, interesting!

    1. Thank you for the feedback Linda. I agree about the tightness of these poems. I enjoyed the challenge the line structure presented. It is always interesting to find out the origins of words and poetic forms.

  3. I wasn't familiar with this form and enjoyed learning about it and reading your poem -- so vivid, with an ending that took me by surprise.

    1. Glad you liked it Jama. The ending caused me to try many possibilities. It got tight as I was running out of syllables.

  4. I've enjoyed reading--and writing--this form. I'm glad Kat shared it and that others are exploring it, too. I, too, love the line of The tanned and freckled, the scabbed and the scorched. Now I'm longing for a beach!

    1. I too am most grateful to Kat for uncovering these poems Kay. It is good that a number of us are delving into them. That line about the scabbed and scorched seems to have struck a chord. It reminded me of childhood experiences with unwelcome sunburn. We are racing towards summer here in Australia, so the poem is quite timely.

  5. Great use of the form. And very Bali!

    1. Thanks Sally. I could claim the Bali backdrop was part of my research, but the poem was a little more organic than that. It grew from my leisurely observations while relaxing under an umbrella on the beach.

  6. You've packed a lot in this short poem, along with the twist at the end. These two lines are strong, and quite a different experience of how one might describe beach goers:
    "Beach people,
    Brown eroded."


  7. Thanks Michelle. I think my perception of the sun has changed as I have gotten older. Age and experience along with fair skin has made me respectful of the sun as one might respect a potential enemy. The sun is a thing of both wonder and wariness. Hence my reference to 'brown, eroded.' people.


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