Terms for Discussing Prosody
Analyzing Meter in Poetry
Basic Terms
• Prosody: The metrical pronunciation of a
song or poem.
• Rhythm: A combination of vocal speeds,
rises, and falls; in poetry, heavy and light
stress. Patterns are called "feet."
• Scansion (scan). The process of marking
beats in a poem to establish the prevailing
metrical pattern.
Naming Numbers of Feet
One foot: monometer
Two feet: dimeter
Three feet: trimeter
Four feet: tetrameter
Five feet: pentameter
Six feet: hexameter
Seven feet: heptameter or the septenary
Eight feet: octameter
Kinds of Feet: Spondaic and Pyrrhic
Spondee: stressed stressed
Pyrrhic: unstressed unstressed
Kinds of Feet: Iambic
• Iamb/ iambic: unstressed stressed
• The most natural and common kind in English, this meter
elevates speech to poetry (iambic pentameter)
• Example:
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness, and to me.
• When you say this aloud, what syllables are stressed?
Mark them with a “strong” mark (‘) above the syllable.
Sounding out the Rhythm
• The CURfew TOLLS the KNELL of
The LOWing HERD wind SLOWly O’ER
the LEA,
The PLOWman HOMEward PLODS his
And LEAVES the WORLD to DARKness,
AND to ME.
Kinds of Feet: Trochaic
• Trochaic/trochee: stressed unstressed
• Example:
Tyger, tyger, burning bright
In the forest of the night
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
• Say this quatrain aloud and mark the accented
syllables. Where are the strong syllables?
Sounding out the Rhythm
• TYger, TYger, BURNing BRIGHT
IN the FORest OF the NIGHT
Kinds of Feet: Dactylic
• Dactyl/dactylic: stressed unstressed unstressed
• Example:
This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines
and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green,
indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and
• Say the first line aloud and mark the stressed
Sounding out the Rhythm
THIS is the FORest primEVal. The MURmuring PINES and the HEMlocks,
Kinds of Feet: Anapestic
• Anapest/ anapestic: unstressed unstressed
• 'Twas the night before Christmas and all through
the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with
In hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be
• Say this aloud and mark the stressed syllables.
Sounding out the Rhythm
• 'Twas the NIGHT before CHRISTmas and
ALL through the HOUSE,
Not a CREAture was STIRring, not EVen a
The stockings were hung by the chimney
with care,
In hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would
be there.
•Try to figure out the meter for each selection, and then go
on to the next slide, where the answer will be given.
First Practice
Go, and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the Devil's foot . . . --John Donne, “Song”
• Trochaic tetrameter.
• Notice the words that are emphasized:
Line 1: Go, catch, fall, star
Line 2: Get, child, man, root
Second Practice
• Macavity's a Mystery Cat: he's called the
Hidden Paw-For he's the master criminal who can defy
the law.
He's the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the
Flying Squad's despair:
For when they reach the scene of the
crime-Macavity's not there!
• Iambic heptameter (or the septenary).
• Note the stresses:
MaCAViTY’s the MYStery CAT: he’s
• “Mystery” is pronounced like “mystry” here.
Third Practice
• 'Tis the voice of the Lobster: I heard him
"You have baked me too brown, I must
sugar my hair."
As a duck with its eyelids, so he with his
Trims his belt and buttons, and turns out
his toes.
• Anapestic tetrameter.
• ‘Tis the VOICE of the LOBster: I HEARD
him deCLARE.
• If you listen to the rhythm, it sounds just
like “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,”
which is written in the same meter.
Fourth Practice
• By the shores of Gitche-Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
Dark behind it rose the forest,
Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees
Rose the firs with cones upon them.
• Trochaic tetrameter.
• BY the SHORES of GITCHe-GUmee
BY the SHINing BIG-sea-Water
• This is trochaic tetrameter with the last
syllable added.
Fifth Practice
• How say that by law we may torture and
A woman whose crime is the hue of her
With her step on the ice and her arm on
her child,
The danger was fearful, the pathway was
wild. . . .
• Anapestic tetrameter, although this meter varies
• How SAY that by LAW we may TORture and
CHASE / A WOman whose CRIME is the HUE of
her FACE?
• This serious poem makes use of galloping meter
because it deals with a mother escaping from
slavery. She is pursued as she crosses the river
into freedom. The meter gives the rhythm of the
poem a sense of urgency.