Meter in Poetry
Units of Rhythm
IntroductionSome people will say poetry is the music of the written word. I would agree and add that like music, poetry has many rhythm forms. In fact James Knapp states:
Meter in PoetryIntroduction
English is possibly the most difficult language of all in which to write poetry. Unlike other languages, it does not have a rhythm or a natural rhyme, and so in this age of fast everythings, and in the haste to write poetry it is possibly the reason why meter and rhyme has become ignored and free form is so popular.
I am not saying that free form is any lesser poetry than metered and rhyming poetry, what I am saying is that poetry is a skill and takes time to master. Not only does it take time to learn the physical skills of writing, but also the mental skills that separate the master from the apprentice, or the genius from the mundane.
Free form in the hands of a skilled wordsmith has the potential to be better poetry because of its freedom, but unless the wordsmith has the skill and training, some of it is not even fit for birthday cards.
In poetry, Meter is the way of forming a line of poetry so that it has regular and equal
units of rhythm.
Each line is only one foot
Dimeter (Two Feet).
Perhaps one of the finest examples of Trimeter (Three Feet), is by Sir Walter Raleigh.
A single Alexandrine is often used to present a resonant termination to a stanza as in Hardy's "The Convergence of the Twain". In which the shape of the stanza suggests the Iceberg that is the subject of the poet. "The last oracle" by Swinburne is an example of trochaic hexameter.
Heptameter (Seven Feet) . Kiplings "Tommy" is written in iambic heptameter Fourteeners, with an added initial syllable in three of the four lines that make up the second half of each stanza.
Free VerseThe most popular poetry today without doubt is Free Verse. Some would argue that it is not proper poetry, but that would put them in the minority of poets who insist that poetry must rhyme, and must also have some form of meter. There is another school of thought that insists that poetry need not have a rhyme and even more who state that there is no need for meter.
If it is as stated then poetry is a metered verse and prose is unmetered; and having said that, some alleged poetry whilst rhyming has no meter and some prose whilst not rhyming has some form of meter.
Some free verse you have read has been deliberately cut so that it just presents the appearance of a poem and yet there is no tempo to help the poem along.
This points out that despite its title "Free Verse" it must have elements of form.
T.S. Eliot wrote, "No verse is free to a poet who wants to do a good job".
In fact my opinion is that no poet can write truly great free poetry unless he or she has served an apprenticeship of writing form poetry first.
Having said that it means that the trained poet has now got the freedom to attempt unusual conventions and produce a really unique product.
back to list
Blank Verse is usually divided into verse paragraphs of varying length, though it can be used in stanzas of equal length, as in the following example:
There are four distinct forms:
The first is the Pindaric Ode originating in 5th century BC and has a set metre and ryme. It is written in accentual-syllabic verse, the stanza length and rhyme scheme are determined by the poet. The poem is divided into three sections, first section the strophe, the second section the anti-strophe and the final section the stand or epode
The second form of Ode is the English or Keatsian Ode and consists of three ten line Iambic Pentameter stanzas rhyming a. b. a. b. c. d. e. c. d. e..
Stanzas two and three have the same scheme but their own rhyme. Although Keats is credited for this form, he did not follow this form exactly and varied the rhyme forms.
The third form is the Horatian Odeand consists of a number of nonce stanzas. An example of this form of Ode is: