Meter and Scansion

English 1B
Dr. T. Keeler
Meter and Scansion
Meter and Scansion
Introduction: Many poems, both traditional and modern, are metrical; that is, each line of the
poem follows a rhythmic pattern (or meter) chosen by the poet. A poem’s meter is named using
two variables.
1. The first of these variables is the foot. It indicates the pattern of stressed and
unstressed syllables within a single line of poetry.
2. The second indicates the number of feet per line of poetry that dominate the poem.
This word ends with the suffix –meter.
Types of Metrical Feet: Stressed and Unstressed Syllables
In order to determine which syllables are stressed and which are not, it is helpful to
consider two factors. We will use the line “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” to
illustrate these factors.
1. The number of syllables in a given word and how that particular word is pronounced
(for example, the word “lazy” the first syllable “la” receives the stress).
2. The position of the word in the line (for example, only the words “over” and “lazy”
have more than one syllable. For one syllable words, such as “quick,” “brown,”
“fox,” and “jumped,” the reader has to determine if the words receive equal emphasis
within the line. One might decide that the nouns, “fox” and “dog,” will receive more
emphasis than the words “quick” and “brown.”
Please note, whether considering single syllable words or words with two or more syllables, not
all stressed syllables will receive the same amount of emphasis. Some may be more heavily
stressed than others and still establish a metrical pattern. Mark the stressed syllables with a ‘
and the unstressed syllables with a u. A secondary accent (‘’) will be stronger than an
unstressed syllable but not a strong as a stressed syllable.
Commonly Used Metrical Feet in English
2 Syllables
3 Syllables
iamb – inspire; in time
anapest – anymore; by a
trochee- travel
dactyl – dinosaur; look at
Both first and last
spondee – ice pick
*amphimacer – amazon
Stressed Syllable:
pyrric – and a
*amphibrachys – amoeba
*these two metrical feet are rare because an entire line would probably be scanned as
iambic or trochaic.
Note: Free verse does not conform to a fixed pattern; Blank verse is unrhymed iambic
English 1B
Dr. T. Keeler
Meter and Scansion
Meter indicates the number of feet per line of poetry.
1. monometer (the rarest of them all)
6. hexamter (also known as alexandrine)
2. dimeter
7. heptameter
3. trimeter
8. octameter
4. tetrameter
9. nonameter
5. pentameter
10. decameter
To scan a poem means to mark stressed syllables, then unstressed syllables and determine if
a pattern emerges. The pattern is named by using the name of the dominant foot in the
adjective form plus the number of feet. For example, if the dominant foot is an iamb, and the
number of feet is six, then the metrical foot would be called iambic hexameter.
It is important to know not only what the pattern is [iambic pentameter, or anapestic
trimeter, for example] but why the poet would use this pattern. Does the metrical pattern
reinforce the rushed feeling of a line? Does it slow the reader down and seem more plodding?
In other words, what is the function of the rhythmical pattern in conveying meaning?
Sample Exercise:
O loss of sight, of thee I most complain!
Blind among enemies, O worse than chains,
(John Milton, “The Blindness of Samson”)
I wander through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
(William Blake, “London”)
Why so pale and wan, fond Lover?
Prithee why so pale?
Will, when looking well can’t move her,
Looking ill prevail?
Prithee why so pale?
(John Suckling, “Song”)