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Meter is not so hard.

All the really great poets studied hard, they knew what they were doing with every word and syllable.

Meter is more important in poetry than any other device.

and it is very easy to understand in theory. Do not count syllables! Count stressed syllables. It consists of types, called feet and the number of feet per line. Each foot consists of stressed and unstressed syllables. This is the way the syllables are normally stressed, or emphasised in spoken language.

There are only four feet commonly used in English. Iambic, Trochaic, Anapestic and Dactylic. Don't be put off by the jargon, musicians need to know notes, sailors need to know knots and we need to know meter. The number of feet per line seldom exceeds seven. So this is fairly manageable and not that complex, Iambic Pentameter is five iambs per line (pent is from the Greek for five, like pentangle, pentagon)

When we say-
The language is the same, only the emphasis is different
the stresses naturally occur as
The LANguage IS the SAME, ONly the EMphasis is DIFFerent
if we pronounce it as
The lanGUAGE is THE same, onLY the emPHASis is diffERent
it sounds utterly bizarre.

This is the secret of writing in metric forms, finding the combinations of words that naturally fit your chosen meter. It is also the single biggest difference between poetry and lyrics. Lyrics use the beat of the music to over-ride the natural stress of the language (and that's why it is not poetry and I never comment on lyrics on this site)

That's the relatively easy part. The harder part is developing an “ear” for meter. If you are writing in a metric form and are not sure if you are getting it right here's a little trick. Get someone else to read it back to you. With practice you will be able to read it aloud to yourself and eventually your preferred forms will become almost intuitive.

Let's get back to those strangely named feet, Iambic, Trochaic, Anapestic and Dactylic.

Iambic verse is composed of iambs, an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one. da DUM. It is the most commonly used meter in English since the time of Chaucer. It most closely resembles the natural stresses of the English language. It is the rhythm of the human heartbeat. Five iambs per line, Iambic Pentameter is the most commonly used metric form. Because the stress is on the last syllable of the line Iambic also strengthens the effect (and faults) of rhyming if you use it. It also closely resembles what you can say in one breath, useful for actors, Shakespeare used it a lot.

The mighty king foreswore his dreaded crown
The MIGH/ty KING/ foreSWORE/ his DREAD/ed CROWN.

This is a line of Iambic Pentameter. Try saying it different ways, to emphasise different syllables. Sounds weird,eh? Here is another example you might recognise, can you “hear” the stress patterns?-
If music be the food of love, play on
Yes, it's Shakespeare, many of his Sonnets were in Iambic Pentameter.

Very similar is Trochaic, composed of trochees, a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one. DUM da. Because the first syllable is stressed it provides a stronger rhythmic feeling than Iambic while the unstressed last syllable allows for greater latitude in rhyming and half rhymes. In practice Iambic and Trochaic are so similar that they often occur within the same poem, even within the same line. See how easily the above example is converted from Iambic to Trochaic.

Mighty Zeus foreswore his dreaded crowning
MIGHty/ ZEUS fore/SWORE his/ DREADed/ CROWNing.

The Anapestic or anapest is three syllables with the stress on the last. da da DUM. The Dactylic or dactyl is three syllables with the stress on the first. As you can see they carry a less emphasised inherent rhythm than Iambic or Trochaic but share the difference where a rhyming scheme is involved. There are usually less feet per line too, as the lines quickly become overly long.

For lots of help and examples Google-
poetry meter examples
.

Comments

.

cheers,
Jess
Neopoet is a workshop. Poets take the time to read and think about your work and offer suggestions.
There is no obligation to make any changes however please acknowledge critique and comments.

author comment

So do you think the same meter should always be used throughout a poem?.........stan

It is very rarely done, even by Shakespeare. But it is important to learn to use meter in just the same way you need to learn chords on a guitar or practice your golf stroke.

cheers,
Jess
Neopoet is a workshop. Poets take the time to read and think about your work and offer suggestions.
There is no obligation to make any changes however please acknowledge critique and comments.

author comment

Dactylic. Can you tie knots without knowing a half-hitch? Can you play golf without knowing a swing from a slice? Can you play music without knowing the words for chords?

I will keep it simple. Not dum dum.

cheers,
Jess
Neopoet is a workshop. Poets take the time to read and think about your work and offer suggestions.
There is no obligation to make any changes however please acknowledge critique and comments.

author comment

you might not need to know the names to do them, but you can't repeat them or record them without using a name for them.

Don't fight it so hard my friend, I'm only using four metric forms in the workshop, and I prefer saying "Iambic Pentameter"
to
da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM
you seem to have an anti-intellectual approach, which I credit, but not when it limits.

cheers,
Jess
Neopoet is a workshop. Poets take the time to read and think about your work and offer suggestions.
There is no obligation to make any changes however please acknowledge critique and comments.

author comment

and yes it does. It's simply more decriptive, shorter and accurate to say Iambic Pentameter
than
da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM
and etc.

Don't get me wrong, I don't doubt your intellect for a second. I just think you are being obstructive in using terminology that describes what we are trying to do. I've used analogies of knots and golf and chords, for fucks sake what speciality doesn't have some unique terms? Which doesn't necessarily define it as intellectual elitism. I don't know how to score tennis. It's weird, with all that love and hate and different scores. But if you're interestested in tennis you learn it and it's probably not that hard.

So Iambic, Trochaic, Anapestic and Dactylic are the only terms I'm going to suggest learning.
da DUM
DUM da
da da DUM
and
DUM da da

cheers,
Jess
Neopoet is a workshop. Poets take the time to read and think about your work and offer suggestions.
There is no obligation to make any changes however please acknowledge critique and comments.

author comment

I would never turn my back on you again, you are way too clever.

cheers,
Jess
Neopoet is a workshop. Poets take the time to read and think about your work and offer suggestions.
There is no obligation to make any changes however please acknowledge critique and comments.

author comment

And then we have actors like Christopher Walken who raise the spoken meter into an art form.

~Ac

you're getting there!

I applaud your courage and efforts. It's hard to learn something new.

cheers,
Jess
Neopoet is a workshop. Poets take the time to read and think about your work and offer suggestions.
There is no obligation to make any changes however please acknowledge critique and comments.

author comment

Now this is a lesson on meter, thank you I have learned something already, just from reading this. Here is my first attempt at meter.

If I was a man of meter
I would measure every word
without an idea for the one
that stressed or raised
what ever I said.

if I were a man of poetry
I would please myself
with words
which could easily
be read

I am neither
so your lesson
is a potencial treasure
if I apply it
to my written words.
______________________

Now tell me, is there in meter or merit to what I have written here just from my disturbed head.
thanks Jess I am ready to learn.

Eddie

LIFE ISN'T ABOUT WAITING FOR THE STORM TO PASS
IT'S ABOUT LEARNING HOW TO DANCE IN THE RAIN.
VIVIAN GREENE

You started so well! We'll try to keep the same number of feet, 4 in this case, per line, so-

If I / was a / man of / meter
I would/ measure/ every / word [see the missing unstressed syllable?]
without / an idea / for the / one [the stress is on the 2nd syllable in without, the rest good.]
that stress / ed or / raised what / ever I / said.

if I / were a / man of / poetry
I would / please my / self with / words
which could / easi / ly be / read

I am / neither / so your / lesson
is a / potential / treasure [this one is tricky!]
if I / apply it / to my / written / words.

An interesting thing when working with iambic or trochaic meter is that it often doesn't matter if you leave off the first or last foot. If it begins and ends with a stressed syllable the line is strong, conversely if it begins and ends unstressed it is weak and can be useful for that.

Hope this helps.

cheers,
Jess
Neopoet is a workshop. Poets take the time to read and think about your work and offer suggestions.
There is no obligation to make any changes however please acknowledge critique and comments.

author comment

Is not a stressed syllable the same as an accented syllable?

yay! I'm learning. Sad I couldn't join this workshop early. I'm currently reading the Kalevala and I must say meter is a wonderful thing.

No verse is free for the man who wants to do a good job. - TS Eliot

http://www.wsgeorge.com/

Thanks Jess...They say that the best things in life do not come easily and I find that I very much like poetry in my more "mature" years, so I will keep on trying and will one day understand and be able to write with smooth flowing meter! Thanks for your help. Can you suggest any specific poetry or Poets work I can read to help in understanding?
~Debbie~

you will find lots of material.

cheers,
Jess
Neopoet is a workshop. Poets take the time to read and think about your work and offer suggestions.
There is no obligation to make any changes however please acknowledge critique and comments.

author comment

I didn't know what iambic pentameter was until now. It was in the theme lyrics! Thanks for the educate xxxx

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