Post 25

Author: Nola Published: over 5 years ago
Tags: syllables, stress, metre, rhythm, poetry Category: Writing tips

Poetry Essentials Part 3: Metre

There once was a poetry blog
Maintained by a talented dog
She rhymed all the day
For minimal pay
And set all her readers agog

This poem is of course a limerick, a whimsical type of poetry we learned as children. When you read it aloud, it has a certain rhythmic pattern or metre. As I mentioned in last week’s post, the building blocks of metre are syllables and stress.

This limerick has a syllabic pattern of 8 8 5 5 8 (though 9 9 6 6 9 and other variations can also be used as noted here).

I’ve set it out below with the stressed syllables in capitals so that you can see the metrical sequence more clearly.

There ONCE was a PO-e-try BLOG Main-TAINED by a TAL-ent-ed DOG She RHYMED all the DAY For MIN-i-mal PAY And SET all her READ-ers a-GOG

In traditional poetry, there are a number of typical rhythmic patterns that involve ‘counting your feet’ (as John Whitworth would say). A foot is a unit of poetry that contains one accented syllable and one or two unaccented ones. If ‘DUM’ is a stressed syllable and ‘da’ is an unstressed one, here are the most common types of feet.

Iambic - da DUM (e.g. tonight) Trochaic - DUM da (e.g. penguin) Anapaestic - da da DUM (e.g. comprehend) Dactylic - DUM da da (e.g. tenderly)

You can find more examples of words for the different types here.

The limerick above is a variation on anapaestic metre in that the first beat of each line is missing. That is, each line starts with two beats and then reverts to anapaestic metre.

Metrical verse can also be classified by the number of feet in a line.

1 foot = monometre 2 feet = dimetre 3 feet = trimetre 4 feet = tetrametre 5 feet = pentametre 6 feet = hexametre

By combining the type of feet with the number of feet in a line, you can achieve different patterns. For example, iambic pentametre is a form made up of five iambic feet (da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM). This is common in Shakespearean verse (e.g. “But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?”). Anapaestic and dactylic forms are more common in humorous verse.

This sounds a bit technical, but it follows on from a point made last week. Speech has a natural rhythm. If you read a poem out loud and find yourself stumbling over phrases or lines, there may be a problem with the syllables and stress. Knowing some of the basic rules of metre will help you to identify problems and fix them when they do occur.

The limerick is just one type of metrical verse. Next week, we’ll look at some different poetic forms. In the meantime, why not try writing a limerick that has the accents in the right place? I’d be interested in reading your masterpieces.

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