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Poetic Meter and Poetic Rhythm

An explanation of Poetic Meter and Poetic Rhythm with examples.

Most English poetry is written with a certain rhythm and meter which both add to the artistry in writing poetry as well as give the poem a certain flow. Rhythm and Meter are two separate terms which together can give a poem a sort of tempo or heartbeat that can help convey more to the reader than just words alone. Poetric Rhythm is the repeated pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in lines of poetry.

Poetic Rhythm

There are five basic patterns used in poetry: iambic, trochaic, spondaic, anapestic, and dactylic rhythms. These basic patterns consist of either 2 or 3 syllable 'feet'. Each repetition of a pattern in called a foot and are called iambs, trochees, spondees, dactyls or anapests, respectively. Here the rhythms are shown with stressed (/) and unstressed (x) syllables indicated.

Two Syllable Poetic Rhythm Examples

  • Iambic (x / )
  • Trochaic (/ x)
  • Spondaic (/ /)

Three Syllable Poetic Rhythm Examples

  • Anapestic (x x /)
  • Dactylic (/ x x)

Poetic Meter

Poetic Meter is determined by the number of feet in a line of poetry or the number of occurrences of a given Poetic Rhythm in a line. There are generally between 1 and 8 feet in a line of poetry.

  • Monometer 1 Foot per Line
  • Dimeter 2 Feet per Line
  • Trimeter 3 Feet per Line
  • Tetrameter 4 Feet per Line
  • Pentameter 5 Feet per Line
  • Hexameter 6 Feet per Line
  • Heptameter 7 Feet per Line
  • Octameter 8 Feet per Line

How to Determine Poetic Meter

When determining the Poetic Meter of a poem, one must first recognize which Rhythm the poem is written in and then count the number of occurrences of that Rhythm in each line. The Poetic Meter is then written as the Rhythm followed by the Meter. For instance, if a line of poetry consists of 5 repetitions (feet) of the iambic rhythm, the Poetic Meter of that line is Iambic Pentameter.

Examples of Poetic Meter in Shakespeare

Iambic Pentameter Example - Romeo Juliet Act 2 Scene 2
But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou her maid art far more fair than she:
Be not her maid, since she is envious;
Her vestal livery is but sick and green
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.

Trochaic Tetrameter Example - The Phoenix and the Turtle
Reason, in itself confounded,
Saw division grow together,
To themselves yet either neither,
Simple were so well compounded.

Other Examples of Poetric Meter in Poetry

Trochaic Octameter Example - The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more.'

Dactylic Hexameter Example - Illiad by Homer
μῆνιν ἄειδε, θεά, Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος