Terms for Discussing Prosody

Terms for Discussing
What is prosody?
The term “prosody” refers to discussions of the
kinds of stressed and unstressed syllables in
 “Scansion” or “scanning” is the process of
marking the beats in a poem.
 Understanding the patterns of stressed and
unstressed syllables in a poem (the “rhythm” of
the poem) is necessary if you want to
understand sonnets and other poems with a
specific form.
How do I know what’s stressed and
not stressed?
Say the word out loud as you naturally would, but listen
to which syllables are emphasized.
Write down your answers, using capital letters for the
syllables that you emphasized.
Is this what you said?
 TAX-es
 up-SET
 re-TAIN
 BAD-min-ton
 GOV-ern-ment
 pir-ou-ETTE
Marking Syllables
Stressed and unstressed syllables in poetry are
marked above the syllable.
 A strongly accented syllable is marked with an
accent mark like a little forward-leaning slash or
 An unaccented syllable is marked with “breve,”
which is the shallow u-shaped mark that you see
in dictionaries to indicate a short vowel.
 It’s hard to reproduce those in PowerPoint, so
for these exercises, the system of capital and
lower-case letters is used.
Kinds of feet
A unit of stressed and unstressed syllables
is called a “foot.” Each of those words
represents a different kind of foot.
A unit of STRESSED-unstressed syllables
(sounding like DA-dum) is called a trochee
(or a “trochaic’ foot).
 TRI-al STRESSED-unstressed (DA-dum)
 TAX-es STRESSED-unstressed (DA-dum)
A unit of unstressed-STRESSED syllables
(da-DUM) is called an iamb (or iambic
 up-SET unstressed-STRESSED (da-DUM)
 re-TAIN unstressed-STRESSED (da-DUM)
A unit of STRESSED-unstressedunstressed syllables is called a dactyl (or
“dactylic” foot)
 BAD-min-ton (DA-dum-dum)
 GOV-ern-ment (DA-dum-dum)
A unit of unstressed-unstressed-STRESSED
syllables is called an anapest (anapestic foot).
 An anapestic meter—that is, a poem that uses a
lot of anapestic feet—is often called a
“galloping” meter because it sounds like a horse
 da da DUM da da DUM da da DUM da da DUM
 Pir-ou-ETTE (da-da-DUM)
Note: These are just examples within words.
In a poem, a foot can stretch across a
number of words.
“When I consider how my light is spent”
might be pronounced (scanned) like this:
“when I conSIder HOW my LIGHT is SPENT”
da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM
Iambic Pentameter
That pattern
– da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM
is called “iambic pentameter.”
– “Iambic” because the feet are iambic (daDUM)
– “Pentameter” because there are five feet in a
Fun Facts about Iambic Pentameter
All of Shakespeare’s plays are written in
unrhymed iambic pentameter (called
“blank verse.”
 Iambic pentameter is the meter used in
sonnets, which are composed of 14 lines
of rhyming iambic pentameter.
 Iambic pentameter is the closest poetic
line to natural speech.
Counting Feet
Iambic pentameter is a very common
meter for poetry, but poets can use any
number of feet in a line.
 Other common numbers of feet:
tetrameter (4 feet) and trimeter (3 feet)
Look at the next slide for all the names.
Naming the number of feet
foot = monometer
feet = dimeter
feet = trimeter
feet = tetrameter
feet = pentameter
feet = hexameter
feet = heptameter or “the septenary”
feet = octameter
Odd Kinds of Feet
Sometimes you’ll find two stressed or two
unstressed feet in a row, usually for
emphasis. A whole poem won’t be this
way, however.
 Spondee stressed stressed
Pyrrhic unstressed unstressed
Ready to read aloud?
The best way to scan a poem (that is, to
mark its stressed and unstressed syllables)
is to read it aloud. Here are some
examples for you to read aloud. As you
read them, mark the patterns on a piece
of paper.
Helpful Hints
Mark the stressed syllables first and then fill in
the unstressed syllables.
 BE LOUD! It helps if you bang on a desk or table
to emphasize the stressed syllables of the word.
That’s how we do this in my face-to-face class.
 After you’ve marked the stressed and unstressed
syllables, divide the lines into feet.
 Ready?
Example 1
Clue: This is predominantly iambic.
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 PARTing
The LOWing HERD wind SLOWly O’ER the
The PLOWman HOMEward PLODS his
to ME.
This is iambic pentameter.
 Multisyllabic words are especially helpful;
for example, you would say CURfew, not
curFEW and PARTing, not partING, so the
accented syllables in those words would
help you to determine the pattern.
 The poem is Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written
in a Country Churchyard.”
Example 2
Tyger, tyger, burning bright
In the forest of the night
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
--Say this quatrain (four lines of poetry)
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
Note how the fourth line begins with a spondee,
or two-syllable foot in which both syllables are
 Also, there are four accented syllables but only
three unaccented syllables. This is common,
since it prevents the poems from being too
 The meter here would be trochaic tetrameter
(four beats), even though the unaccented
syllables at the end are missing.
 The poem is William Blake’s “The Tyger.”
Example 3 Dactylic
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 syllables.
This meter is common for classical epics,
and Longfellow here is imitating epic
meter: dactylic hexameter. However, it is
a meter less commonly used in English.
THIS is the FORest primEVal. The
MURmuring PINES and the HEMlocks,
 The poem is Henry Wadsworth
Longfellow’s “Evangeline.”
Example 4: Anapestic
'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 there.
 Say this aloud and mark the stressed syllables.
See how it “gallops”?
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
The rhythm sounds something like this: da
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM da da
 See? Galloping meter.
 This is anapestic tetrameter.
 The poem is Clement Clark Moore’s “A
Visit from St. Nicholas.”
Test-Yourself Quiz
Now that you’ve tried the examples here,
try the test-yourself quiz on prosody at
 http://www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/qui
Note: This is NOT a graded quiz, and it is not in Angel. Anybody can take it,
and the results are available only to you.
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