#EdenLit - Lessons: Meter In Poetry

Airen Wolf Airen Wolf
Meter In Poetry

What is poetry meter and why is it important? Meter is how we measure a line of poetry, and it is based on the rhythm of the words when spoken. Poets often use rhythm and rhyme to convey the emotions they are seeking to evoke in their readers.
Learning proper poetic meter is important when reading a poem and it is also important when writing a poem. When reading a poem knowing proper meter will allow you, as the reader, to sort of climb inside the poem and into the head of the writer. It will allow you to experience all of the emotion the poet is desperate to convey. It will allow you to cry, or even to laugh with the poet as you “get” the joke.
For the writer of poetry learning meter will allow him/her to richly convey meaning to the reader, and to share the real intensity of the words. Language is a rich tapestry that can most richly be viewed through a lens composed of rules that can then be molded, and even broken, to fit the need of the poem.

So now we know WHY meter is important in poetry; let’s discuss how meter is expressed! When we speak we stress certain syllables and under stress or ignore other syllables. This composes the cadence of speech; that “sing-song” quality of most conversations. Meter measures poetry lines based on these patterns of stress. Meter creates the “beat”; otherwise known as the “foot”, of the poem.

When the foot of the poem has an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable it is known as an iamb. The rhythm sounds like buh-BUM, for example: i LOVE a COUNtry LASS.

When the foot of the poem has a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable it is known as trochee or trochaic foot. The rhythm sounds like BUM-bum. This is seen in words like Father and Mother.

As we learned from writing limericks an anapest or anapestic foot has a rhythm that goes bum-bum-BUM. Words like overboard, underneath or seventeen follow the anapestic foot.

When the rhythm is the opposite of the anapestic foot it is called dactyl or dactylic foot and the rhythm is BUM-bum-bum. Stepfather, Horse riding, and elephant are examples of the dactylic foot.

When dissecting a poem we look not only at the foot, but we also count how many of feet are present per line:
* The rarest form of meter used in poetry is the monometer; where there is only one foot per line in the poem.
* Dimeter has only two feet per line. For example in trochaic dimeter- “Stop that, right now!” (Bum-bum Bum-bum) This form of poetry can be rather flat and aggressive.
*Trimeter has three feet per line. For example iambic trimeter: “We drank the juice and milk.” (bum-BUM bum-BUM bum-BUM)
*Tetrameter has four feet per line. For example, in trochaic tetrameter: “Mother cooked all day and night long.” (BUM-bum BUM-bum BUM-bum BUM-bum)
*Pentameter has five feet per line. This is a common form of poetry and the best known is the iambic pentameter. For example: “But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?” Shakespeare employed iambic pentameter heavily and it is a good bet that if you read his works aloud using the pentameter it will roll off the tongue easily.
*Hexameter (Alexandrine) has six feet per line. For example: “I’ll cook the food in the oven right now, my Dear.” (bum-BUM bum-BUM bum-BUM bum-BUM bum-BUM bum-BUM)
As the feet increase per line the number count increases and the poem get ridiculously complicated!

Now, obviously finding the meter of a poem is more complicated than just counting the feet and recognizing the pattern. Sometimes reading iambic pentameter, for instance, can be difficult because we may not stress the syllables that SHOULD be stressed when talking. This can lead to a poem becoming a whole lot harder to understand when it is read aloud.
Sometimes we feel the need to pause in the middle of a line even though the meter would seem to demand that the reader continue onward. This is known as a caesura, and is acceptable when reading a poem aloud. Also, the poet his or herself may vary, or even completely change, the meter to achieve the effect he or she is looking to evoke in the audience. Still, a poem should be like speaking a melody.
09/10/2012
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