What is “meter”?
Meter is the Greek word for “measure”
 Meter is basically the rhythmic structure of
a verse
 The scansion of a poem is the analysis of
its metrical structure.
3 main types of meter
Accentual meter: the stresses are counted
and the syllables are variable
 Syllabic meter: the syllables are counted
but the stresses are varied
 Accentual-syllabic meter: both accents
and syllables are measured and counted
Accentual-syllabic meter is the dominant
tradition in English poetry
In accentual-syllabic meters, the
combination of syllables and accents are
measured and counted and are often
referred to as FEET
 The feet are patterns of stressed and
unstressed syllables.
 The variations, pauses, musical effects,
and dissonances within the accentualsyllabic line are where much of the force
and power of meter occurs
Iamb: short stress followed by a long one.
Example: about -/
Trochee: a long stress followed by a short one.
Example: That is. Dropsy. /Dactyl: a long stress followed by two short ones.
Example: happily /-Anapest: two short stresses followed by a long
one. Example: In a tree. --/
Amphibrach: one short, one long, one short. -/Spondee: two long stresses. Example:
humdrum / /
Pyrrhic: two unstressed syllables - -
Names for the number of feet per line
The meter of a poem is determined by the
predominant metrical foot, and by the number of
feet per line that predominates in the poem. The
following terms indicate the number of feet per
monometer: one foot per line
dimeter: two feet per line
trimeter: three feet per line
tetrameter: four feet per line
pentameter: five feet per line
hexameter: six feet per line
heptameter: seven feet per line
octameter: eight feet per line
Trochaic Tetrameter
Trochee: A long stress followed by a short stress
Tetrameter: four feet per line
Trochaic meter is seen among the works of
William Shakespeare:
Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble
Perhaps owing to its simplicity, though, trochaic
meter is fairly common in children's rhymes:
Peter, Peter pumpkin-eater
Had a wife and couldn't keep her.
Iambic Pentameter
Iamb: short stress followed by a long one
Pentameter: 5 feet per line
Examples from Romeo and Juliet
/ / /- //
But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
That thou her maid art far more fair than she:
An example of dactylic meter is the first line of Henry
Wadsworth Longfellow's poem “Evangeline,” which is in
dactylic hexameter:
This is the / forest prim- / eval. The / murmuring / pines and the / hemlocks,
The first five feet of the line are dactyls; the sixth a trochee.
A modern example is the Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky
with Diamonds“ written in dactylic tetrameter:
Picture yourself in a boat on a river with
tangerine tree-ees and marmalade skii-ii-es.
Because of its length and the fact that it ends with a
stressed syllable and so allows for strong rhymes, anapaest
can produce a very rolling, galloping feeling verse, and
allows for long lines with a great deal of internal
An example from William Cowper's "Verses Supposed to be
Written by Alexander Selkirk" (1782), composed in
anapaestic trimeter:
I am out of humanity's reach
I must finish my journey alone
An example of anapaestic tetrameter is the anonymously
published “A Visit From St. Nicholas”
Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
It is the main foot used in the construction of the
limerick, e.g.,
"There was a / young lady / of Wantage."
Some books by Dr. Seuss contain many lines
written in amphibrachs, such as these from If I
Ran the Circus:
All ready / to put up / the tents for / my circus.
I think I / will call it / the Circus / McGurkus.
And NOW comes / an act of / Enormous / Enormance!
No former / performer's / performed this / performance!
Spondee and Pyrrhic
Tennyson used pyrrhics and spondees quite
This is my son, mine own Telemachus
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle,
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
-from Ulysses
Be near me when my light is low,
When the blood creeps and the nerves prick
And tingle; and the heart is sick,
And all the wheels of Being slow.
—from In Memoriam.