Meter, also known as a foot, is the underlying pattern of beats that form the rhythmic structure of poetry. Each foot contains a specific number of syllables, and when arranged, they create the poetic meter. The combination of stressed and unstressed syllables in a verse adds a melodious touch, with stressed syllables being longer than unstressed ones. This rhythmic pattern in a verse contributes to the overall musicality of the poem.
Beyond being a mere memorization tool, the meter elevates the poem’s tone and enhances its aesthetic beauty. Poets employ various types of meter to craft specific rhythms, evoking emotions and engaging the reader. From the timeless iambic pentameter of Shakespeare to the playful anapestic tetrameter of Dr. Seuss, each meter brings its unique charm to the poetic expression.
As poets weave their words with metrical finesse, they create a symphony of emotions, leaving an indelible impact on the hearts of those who experience the beauty of their verse.
Five Basic Meters in English Poetry
- Iambic Meter (unstressed/stressed)
- Trochaic Meter (stressed/unstressed)
- Spondaic meter, (stressed/stressed)
- Anapestic meter(unstressed/unstressed/ stressed)
- Dactylic meter (stressed/unstressed/unstressed)
Qualitative Meter and Quantitative Meter
Meter in poetry can be categorized into two main types: qualitative meter and quantitative meter. Both qualitative and quantitative meters contribute to the musicality and artistic expression of poetry. Poets carefully choose the appropriate meter to complement their themes and create a compelling experience for the reader, be it the sonorous iambic pentameter of Shakespeare or the evocative patterns found in ancient Greek epics. The interplay between these meter types enriches the diversity and beauty of poetic verse, allowing poets to wield rhythm as a potent tool in their creative endeavors.
In qualitative meter, the emphasis is on the regular intervals of stressed syllables. A well-known example of a qualitative meter is iambic pentameter, which consists of five metrical feet, each containing an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. This even distribution of stressed syllables creates a harmonious and balanced rhythm, often found in classical and Shakespearean sonnets.
In contrast, the quantitative meter focuses on the weight or duration of syllables rather than the regular pattern of stressed syllables. This approach originates from classical Greek and Latin poetry, where syllables were classified as long or short based on their duration. The arrangement of long and short syllables forms the meter. While it may not follow a predictable stressed pattern, the rhythm is determined by the length or heaviness of the syllables, resulting in a distinct and musical flow.
Poetry Meter and Counting The Feet
In the rhythmic realm of poetry, the meter dances to the beat of counted feet, giving each verse its unique cadence and flow. In the poetic symphony of meter, each step counts, shaping the mood and emotion of the verse. The skillful poet wields these counted feet like a conductor, orchestrating the rhythmic masterpiece that is poetry. From the monometer’s simplicity to the heptameter’s grandeur, the possibilities are boundless, and the magic of meter knows no bounds.
With just one foot per line, the monometer stands alone, a solitary heartbeat echoing through the poem’s core. It offers brevity and impact, like a single drumbeat that resounds in the reader’s mind.
Two feet per line add a gentle sway to the poem’s rhythm, a delicate dance of stressed and unstressed syllables. Dimeter’s grace can evoke a sense of simplicity or sweet nostalgia.
In three measured steps per line, the trimeter finds a poetic waltz, carrying the reader through the verses with elegance and charm. It weaves a balanced tapestry of sound and meaning.
Four feet per line form a sturdy foundation, like the steady hoofbeats of a galloping horse. Tetrameter’s rhythm can convey strength, resolve, or a sense of unfolding drama.
With five feet, the heart of pentameter beats strong, a metrical pulse synonymous with Shakespearean sonnets. It’s a timeless rhythm that lends itself to romance, introspection, and eloquence.
Hexameter or Alexandrine
Six feet lead the dance in hexameter, or Alexandrine, as it’s known in French poetry. This grand rhythm creates an epic cadence, suitable for tales of heroism and grandeur.
With seven feet per line, heptameter strides boldly, carrying a sense of majesty and power. It’s a rare and captivating meter, capable of leaving an indelible mark on the reader’s imagination.
Examples of Meter in The Poetry
This meter consists of five metrical feet per line, with each foot having an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable (da-DUM).
- To be, or not to be, that is the question – Hamlet By William Shakespeare
- Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” – Sonnet 18 By William Shakespeare
- Two households, both alike in dignity” – Romeo and Juliet By William Shakespeare
- A creature not too bright or good for human nature’s daily food – She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways By William Wordsworth
- When I consider how my light is spent – On His Blindness By John Milton
- The Curfew tolls the knell of parting day Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard By Thomas Gray
This meter consists of four metrical feet per line, with each foot having a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable (DUM-da).
- Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary… – The Raven By Edgar Allan Poe
- Double, double, toil and trouble – Macbeth By William Shakespeare
- Tyger Tyger, burning bright – The Tyger By William Blake
- Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater – A nursery rhyme
- Blessed be the LORD, for he is great – Psalm 135:5 (King James Version).
- Tell me not in mournful numbers – A Psalm of Life By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
This meter consists of four metrical feet per line, with each foot having two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable (da-da-DUM).
- And we saw him! The Cat in the Hat! – The Cat in the Hat By Dr. Seuss
- Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house – A Visit from St. Nicholas By Clement Clarke Moore.
- And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea – The Destruction of Sennacherib By Lord Byron
- In the forests of the night; What immortal hand or eye – The Tyger By William Blake’s poem
- When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock – When the Frost is on the Punkin By James Whitcomb Riley
- Come to the woods, for here is rest – Come to the Woods By John Muir’s poem
This meter consists of six metrical feet per line, with each foot having a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables (DUM-da-da).
- This is the forest primeval, the murmuring pines and the hemlocks – Evangeline By From Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem
- Μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληιάδεω Ἀχιλῆος” (Mēnin aeide thea Pēlēiadēō Akhilēos) – The opening line of Homer’s Iliad in Ancient Greek.
- Strongly it bears us along in swelling and limitless billows – Faust By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
- Πολλὰ μοι τὰν γῆν ἀνέμοισι πεπόνθα μάλα πολλά (Pollà moi tàn gēn anémoisi pepóntha māla pollá) – Sappho’s fragment in Ancient Greek.
- With cymbals’ and the crotala’s loud-toned music – Aeneid By Virgil
- And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea – The Destruction of Sennacherib By Lord Byron’s poem
- Διὸς δ’ ἐτελείετο βουλή, τὰ δὲ κρητῆρας ἐνόησαν (Dios d’eteleíeto boulē, ta de krētēras enoēsan) – Homer’s Iliad in Ancient Greek.
This meter consists of three metrical feet per line, with each foot having two stressed syllables (DUM-DUM).
- Break, break, break, On thy cold gray stones, O Sea! Julius Caesar By from William Shakespeare
- Slowly, surely, the old clock ticks.
- Darkness falls, hush now, silence reigns.
- Heart and soul, we stand as one.
- Lost and gone, the dreams we had.
- Quickly, fiercely, the storm descends.
This meter consists of three metrical feet per line, with each foot having an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable (da-DUM).
- I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud – I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud By William Wordsworth
- The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain – My Fair Lady film
- When I see birches bend to left and right – Birches By Robert Frost
- To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield – Ulysses By Alfred Lord Tennyson
- It little profits that an idle king – The Lotos-Eaters By Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem
- Whose woods these are I think I know – Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening By Robert Frost’s poem
How Do We Identify The Meter
Meter in poetry serves as the rhythmic foundation, providing structure and musicality to the verses. Identifying the meter involves counting the number of feet in each line and recognizing the type of foot that repeats throughout the poem.
The significance of metered verse can be traced back to its origins in ancient Greek and Roman poetry, where it was a fundamental element of epic compositions. In English verse, the meter is based on accent, emphasizing specific syllables to create the desired rhythm. This rhythmic pattern, along with rhyme, plays a crucial role in shaping the aesthetic and emotional impact of poetry. Poems written with a consistent rhythm help in musical recitations as well as aid in memorization. The technique of metered verse is time-tested that is used by poets to create an enduring connection with their readers by using structured and musical language.