Jun 21, 2012

Quick intro to poetic meter

Common metrical feet in English verse

A metrical foot is a pattern of syllables, most commonly two or three syllables. A pattern of unstressed (u) and stressed (/) syllables, that is. Unstressed syllables sound weak, stressed syllables are stronger, louder, more accented. 

Here are the essential feet for English poetry with examples:  

The iamb: u / - To be or not to be , [that is the question]
The trochee:  /  u Tyger, tyger burning bright
The anapest: u u / I must finish my journey alone
The dactyl / u u Picture yourself on a boat on a river 
The spondee / / - See me, heal me, touch me, feel me
A masculine ending is when a line ends on a stressed syllable. 

A feminine ending: when a line ends on an unstressed syllable. 

Scansion means identifying and counting metrical feet in lines of poetry to determine patterns and variations. Scanning a line means marking up the stressed and unstressed syllables and splitting the line into metrical feet. 

Dimeter 2 feet
Trimeter 3 feet
Tetrameter 4 feet
Pentameter 5 feet
Hexameter 6 feet

Caesura is a pause or natural break point in the middle of a line. Sometimes it is indicated with a punctuation mark, sometimes not. If you read aloud, you'll hear where the pauses want to fall. 

Keep in mind, poetic verse will exhibit many variations from the metrical form it follows. That is normal. Just develop your ear for the pattern, and then observe how the lines can be made to fit it. If you really want to get fancy, start listening to the poem's sound and rhythm, and observe how the variations in meter often echo the sense of the line (semantics). 

That is all for now.