Meter in Poetry
Units of Rhythm
Free Verse
Poetry Form
Blank Verse
Heroic Couplets


Some 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:
"A poem is a composition written for performance by human voice. What your eye sees on the page is the composers verbal score, waiting for your voice to bring it alive as you read it aloud or hear it in your minds ear....... The more one understands of musical notation and the principles of musical composition, the more one will understand and appreciate the composers score. Similarly, the more one understands of versification (principles and practice of writing verse), the more one is likely to appreciate poetry and in particular the intimate relationship between it's form and it's content. What a poem says or means is the result of how it is said, a fact that poets are often at pains to emphasise.

"All my life," said W. H. Auden,"I have been more interested in technique than anything else".

T. S. Eliot claimed that "the conscious problems with one is concerned in the actual writing are more those of a quasi-musical nature, in the arrangement of metric and pattern, than of a conscious exposition of ideas."

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Meter in Poetry


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.
Words are made up of consonants which combined with a vowel makes up a syllable. When we use these syllables, we can work them so they are soft, or we can make them hard and sharp. If we put a hard syllable with a soft syllable and add these syllables together, the words take on a beat or rhythm like the ticking of a clock, tic toc, tic toc, tic toc. This is the basic form of Meter and is known as the Iamb. One unstressed beat (u) and one stressed beat (/)

Types of Meter

Iambic...........u / ......... the Foot
Trochee ....... / u ........ Foot ing
Anapest........ u u /........on the Foot
Dactyl........../ u u ........Foot fall ing
Spondee....... / / ........ In Sensed
Pyrric ..........u u........ be gin

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Units of Rhythm


Each line is only one foot
It is a wonderful way to convey strength and meaning with its brevity and sense of isolation.

Step back!
Step back!
Step back!
I say.

No pain!
No pain!
No pain!
I pray

"Loves retreat"

In these two stanzas I think you can feel her pushing away her lover, step BACK and his anguish, no PAIN.

Dimeter (Two Feet).

Step back, step back
step back you say.
No pain, no pain
no pain I pray

Using exactly the same words this way, almost makes it as though she is taking it too lightly, and mocking him. These two examples have tried to show how important choosing the right meter can be.

Perhaps one of the finest examples of Trimeter (Three Feet), is by Sir Walter Raleigh.

The Lie

Go, Soul, the body's guest,
Upon a thankless errand;
Fear not to touch the best;
The truth shall be thy warrant:
Go, since I needs must die,
And give the world the lie.

Say to the court, it glows
And shines like rotten wood;
Say to the church, it shows
What's good, and doth no good:
If church and court reply,
Then give them both the lie.

Sir Walter also give a fine example of Tetrameter (Four Feet) as well with:
The Nymph's Reply

If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every shepherd's tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move
To live with thee and be thy love.

Time drives the flocks from field to fold,
When rivers rage and rocks grow cold,
And Philomel becometh dumb;
The rest complains of cares to come.

The flowers do fade, and wanton fields
To wayward winter reckoning yields;
A honey tongue, a heart of gall,
Is fancy's spring, but sorrow's fall.

The most popular poetic form of all has to be Pentameter (Five Feet), and the master of Iambic Pentameter in my opinion has to be Shakespeare, and his Sonnet XVIII possibly the best known.
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

Hexameter (Six Feet).Also known as an Alexandrine.
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.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms,an' they're starvation cheap;
... But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll -
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

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Free Verse

The 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.

The Dero

Every morning as we rode out training
We would see this dero arrive
Shuffling along, unaware of life around
Clutching his life in a brown paper bag
He would settle into his corner of the bus shelter
His special seat
Rain or shine he'd be there
As we'd ride past.

As we rode past.
He awoke from his alcohol induced slumber
For a minute, once again he was a hero
As he leapt into the air and caught the football
"What a mark" you could hear him say
As he punched the air with his fist
Holding his imaginary ball to the crowd
Then he settled down once more
Into his corner of the bus shelter
His special seat
And we rode on.

Terry Clitheroe

More Examples of Free Form Poetry

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Poetic Form


Ballads are considered to be poems that tell a story and indeed balladeers or minstrels were the early entertainers, telling news and stories in a musical fashion.
The basic ballad form is iambic heptameter (see the notes above), in sestet or six line stanzas. The second, fourth and sixth lines rhyming.
In recent years there has been a break away from the rigidity of form and there are several excellent Ballads in Iambic Pentameter and even Free Verse, as a result a freer more melodic form has emerged. My favourite will always be Oscar Wilde's "Ballad of Reading Jail."

He did not wear his scarlet coat,
For blood and wine are red,
And blood and wine were on his hands
When they found him with the dead,
The poor dead woman whom he loved,
And murdered in her bed.

He walked amongst the Trial Men
In a suit of shabby gray;
A cricket cap was on his head,
And his step seemed light and gay;
But I never saw a man who looked
So wistfully at the day.

I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky,
And at every drifting cloud that went
With sails of silver by

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Blank Verse

Blank Verse is constructed with unrhymed (therefore blank) Iambic Pentameters. No other verse form is able to convey such a beatifull rhythm of spoken English or is able to be used for the various levels of speech. It is often used in dramatic monologues:

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

from "Ulysses" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Blank Verse was first used in English, in Surrey's translation of Virgil's Aeneid. The most famous uses of Blank Verse (aside from that used by Shakespeare in his plays) were in Milton's Paradise Lost, and Wordsworth's The Prelude.
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:

Tears, Idle Tears

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise up in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.

Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,
That brings our friends up from the underworld,
Sad as the last which reddens over one
That sinks with all we love below the verge;
So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.

Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns
The earliest pipe of half-awakened birds
To dying ears, when unto dying eyes
The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;
So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.

Dear as remembered kisses after death,
And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feigned
On lips that are for others; deep as love,
Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;
O Death in Life, the days that are no more!

Regardless of how the Blank Verse is divided, the poems are of no set length. Every poet should read Paradise Lost, and to see example of how perfectly Blank Verse can capture the rhythms of spoken English, read Shakespeare.

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Heroic Couplet

Two successive lines of rhymed poetry in iambic pentameter, so called for its use in the composition of epic poetry in the 17th and 18th centuries. In neo-classical usage the two lines were required to express a complete thought, thus a closed couplet, with a subordinate pause at the end of the first line. Heroic couplets are also often used for epigrams, such as Pope's:

You beat your pate, and fancy wit will come.
Knock as you please--there's nobody at home.

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An Ode was a poem that was written for an occasion or on a particular subject. Originally it was a serious and dignified form but with modern societies irreverence, it has been the tool for comedians with a distinct low respect for propriety, morality, and dignity.

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

A good example is "The Progress of Poesy by Thomas Gray

Awake, Aeolian lyre, awake,
And give to rapture all thy trembling strings.
From Helicon's harmonious springs
A thousand rills their mazy progress take:
The laughing flowers that round them blow
Drink life and fragrance as they flow.
Now the rich stream of Music winds along,
Deep, majestic, smooth, and strong,
Thro' verdant vales, and Ceres' golden reign;
Now rolling down the steep amain,
Headlong, impetuous, see it pour;
The rocks and nodding groves re-bellow to the roar.

The whole of the Poem can be found here Ode On A Grecian Urn

The third form is the Horatian Ode and consists of a number of nonce stanzas. An example of this form of Ode is:

Ode to Myself

Just as Walt Whitman would say,
if he were with me today.....
For I have true love inside
Any egotisms have surely died.
The beautiful song that strives to be heard
this song is clearer than any songbird.
There is no reason to feel pity
for my God and his love is always with me.
And I will try to learn as much as I should,
knowing that there are no problems,
just oppurtunities to be good.

The fourth and the oldest form is the Sappic Ode and consists of a number of Sapphic stanzas. For more details and an example of this form of Ode go to the link. Sapphic Ode

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