Poetic Meter Meter is the rhythm of a poem. There are specific ways to analyze meter so that we can say something clear about a poem’s rhythmic pattern. This lesson will show you how!
Scanning a Poem • We “scan” a poem to determine its basic rhythm and to consider the relevance of that rhythm to the meaning of the poem. • Poetry has much in common with music, and both have mathematical foundations. • When we scan a poem, we begin by saying the poetic lines aloud, paying careful attention to the syllables which seem to be stressed (pronounced with more emphasis).
/ U U / U U Best of all, victory!
U / U / U / I bought a car today.
/ U / U / U Look for hidden pitfalls
U U / U U / In the cool of the night
Counting Stressed Syllables Once we have taken a count of the stressed syllables in each line, we have a good idea of what the dominant meter of the poem is. Every line may not be the same, but usually there will be one dominant pattern. In Rich’s poem, we could scan all the lines and we would see that there are generally 5 stresses (5 stressed syllables) to each line. Poetry scansion makes use of some Greek-derived words to label the meter of a poem. Let’s take a look at those. We measure the meter of a poem using the measurement of poetic feet. A foot in poetry is one stressed syllable + the unstressed syllables that seem to go with it.
Poetic Meter These terms show number of stresses or feet to a line: • One stress (foot) per line = mono + meter = monometer • Two = di + meter = dimeter • Three = tri + meter = trimeter • Four = tetra + meter = tetrameter • Five = penta + meter = pentameter • Six = hex + a + meter = hexameter • Seven = hep + a + meter = heptameter • Eight = oct + a + meter = octameter Since Rich’s poem has 5 stresses per line, or five poetic feetper line, we can say that its meter is pentameter.
One More Step • Finally, we try to determine the dominant type of stressed + unstressed syllable combination which seems prominent throughout the poem. • Though there may be many alternations back and forth between unstressed and stressed syllables, there should be one dominant pattern.
Iambs and other weird patterns Along with the iamb, there are other possible patterns: Pattern Noun Adjective u / iamb iambic u u / anapest anapestic / u trochee trochaic / u u dactyl dactylic / / spondee spondaic
Describing Poetic Meter We describe a poetic line, then, by its type and number of poetic feet. For example: 5 iambs = iambic pentameter 4 trochees = trochaic tetrameter Saying something is in iambic pentameter tells readers that the dominant meter of the poem is 5 stresses to a line (pentameter) and that the dominant pattern or “foot” of syllable stress is u / (iambic).
Petrarchan Sonnet • Italian • Earliest sonnet form • Wyatt brought to England • Octave and Sestet • 14 lines of iambic pentameter • Abbaabba cdecde • Turn between octave and sestet
Spenserian Sonnet • Iambic pentameter • 3 quatrains (4-line stanzas) & couplet • abab bcbc cdcd ee • Turn in couplet or after line 8 (and sometimes 12)
Shakespearean Sonnet • 3 quatrains and a couplet • Often 2 turns (one traditional after line 8; the second before couplet which ‘sums’ up) • abab cdcd efef gg