A Writer's Handbook



Tetractys: The Mystical Count

John Daleiden

Tetractys is an interesting poetry form devised from mathematics.

Euclid, a classical mathematician, considered the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 to be mystical because their sum is 10, so he gave the number group the name tetractys. Ray Stebbing, a retired British lecturer living in London, is credited with creating a syllabic poetry format based on Euclid's number arrangement; and named the poetry format appropriately Tetractys. Stebbing's syllablic verse form, follows the mystical number system of the Pythagoreans. In Stebbing's five line verse form each line contains the same number of syllables as the classical number sequence: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 10 syllables.

Mathematically, the tetractys, also called a decad, is an arrangement of 10 points in the form of a triangle with one point in the first row, two in the second, three in the third, and four in the fourth; the sum of these numbers is ten.  A tetractys is therefore, a representation of the a triangle, the same arrangement of pins used in bowling.

Ray Stebbing's first collection of poems, Traveling Man, was published in 1992 by Approach Poets. A pamphlet, Poems '98' was published in 1999.

Read the tetractys poems in the December 31 Sketchbook.



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