Mechanics of Poetry

Learning the Mechanics of Poetry
Rhythm and Meter Practice
Prose is…
Poetry is…
Poetic feet are…
Each of the following words is polysyllabic (that means they have more than one syllable). Divide
each of the following words by syllable, mark each syllable according to stress, and determine the
type of poetic foot that is represented.
cre – ate
Type of Poetic Foot:
Monometer –
Hexameter –
Dimeter –
Heptameter –
Trimeter –
Octameter –
Tetrameter –
Nanometer –
Pentameter –
Decameter –
Scansion Symbols:
stressed syllable
unstressed syllable
division between feet
Iambic meters tend to sound natural, as English tends to sway toward alternating syllables. Love
songs, odes, and monologues are generally written in iambic meter.
/ | ˘ / | ˘
/ |
/ | ˘
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks
- William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 116”
- iambic pentameter
Trochaic meter is the mirror image of iambic, and also sounds somewhat natural, though more
urgent as the initial stresses hit hard. Rap, marching cadences, and many nursery rhymes often use
trochaic meter.
/ ˘ | / ˘ | / ˘ | / ˘
Peter, Peter, pumpkin-eater
- Nursery rhyme
- trochaic tetrameter
Dactylic meter is rare, as it nearly always slips into anapestic meter or includes an additional syllable
(or spondaic foot) at the end of a line. The Iliad and Odyssey were originally written in dactylic
/ ˘
˘ | /
˘ ˘ | /
˘ ˘ | / ˘ ˘ | / ˘ ˘
Picture yourself in a boat on a river with tangerine
- The Beatles, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”
- dactylic pentameter
Anapests are essentially extended iambs, and tend to sound more songlike. Limericks, most of Dr.
Seuss’s poems (and other children’s poetry), and many songs (like waltzes) tend use anapestic meter.
˘ ˘
/ | ˘
/ | ˘
/ | ˘ ˘
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot
- Dr. Seuss, “The Lorax”
- anapestic tetrameter
Time to test your knowledge! Write out each line and mark each syllable according to stress. Then
determine the type of meter that is being used. For dactylic meter (in English), there is almost always
an extra stressed syllable or spondaic substitution for the last foot. You may mark this substitution,
but still record the type of meter based on the rhythm followed for the majority of the line.
1. Tell me not in mournful numbers
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “A Psalm of Life”
2. I have been one acquainted with the night
- Robert Frost, “Acquainted with the Night”
3. Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary
- Edgar Allan Poe, “The Raven”
4. ’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house
- Clement Clarke Moore, “The Night Before Christmas”
5. Condemned whole years in absence to deplore
- Alexander Pope, “Eloise to Abelard”
6. Rousing the girl from her sleep in the night, from the fear of the bed tick
- from “Spider in the Web”
7. That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall
- Robert Browning, “My Last Duchess”
8. Everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers that grow so incredibly high
- Lennon and McCartney, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”
9. While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping
- Edgar Allan Poe, “The Raven”
10. Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
- William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 18”