Thursday, May 26, 2022

Poetic Meter (Written Conventions of English)

POETIC METER (Written Conventions of English)

Meter is the "beat" in a line of poetry. Even natural speech can have meter, but here are some formal "feet" used by poets (note that ^ means a light beat and / a heavy one):


  • Iamb: ^ / "inDEED" This was Shakespeare's chosen meter; with five feet in a line it is called "iambic pentameter": "But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?"
  • Trochee: / ^ "WAter"  Poe's "The Raven" begins: "Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary..."
  • Spondee: / / "BIRTHDAY" All but "On thy" in these lines by Tennyson are spondaic: "Break, break, break, On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!"
  • Dactyl: / ^ ^ "YESterday" Dactylic lines often end with a trochee, as in Longfellow's Evangeline: "This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks..."
  • Anapest: ^ ^ / "underSTAND" Look at this familiar line: "'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house..."


Lines are also named for the number of feet contained in them (as in "iambic pentameter" above). Some are:

  1. = monometer
  2. = dimeter
  3. = trimeter
  4. = tetrameter
  5. = pentameter
  6. = hexameter
  7. = heptameter
  8. = octameter


(Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons; CTTO)

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