Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Types of Meter

n poetry, a foot is a measure used when two or more beats get together in a recognizable pattern. Here are some of the most common:
  • Iamb: one-two
  • Trochee: one-two
  • Anapest: one-two-three
  • Dactyl: one-two-three
  • Spondee: one-two
There's a little poem I learned to remember the first four:
The iamb saunters through my book
Trochees rush and tumble
While the anapest runs like a hurrying brook
Dactyls are stately and classical
It takes a little more work to use a spondee, since you have to choose words that can't be unaccented in a line. For example, the phrase "dead weight," which generally can't be shortcutted to deadweight or deadweight but will be read dead... weight.


The one everyone knows the name of is Iambic Pentameter. Since "penta" means "five," this means "a line with five iambic feet." William Shakespeare was known for using this one in English free verse, which means the rhythm stayed pretty steady but there were few to no specific rhymes. Bear in mind, too, that just because you set out to write Iambic Pentameter (or any other meter) doesn't mean that you have to use an iamb as every single foot. Shakespeare certainly didn't! You can substitute a trochee at times, or a spondee for emphasis; you might even add some syllables to make one of the longer feet. The number of stressed beats per line, and the major pattern staying iambic, that's what makes Iambic Pentameter. But what you're aiming for is a line that sounds as if someone were actually talking - nothing forced or unnatural about it. That's what's really great about Iambic Pentameter: It sounds a lot like just regular ol' English. Now, as far as other meters: Just pick the number of feet you want. There are names for each (Tetrameter - four; Hexameter - six), but you don't need to worry about the names too much. Now, as far as common usage, a couple good ones are:
  • Four feet per line
  • Four feet the first line, three feet the next line
    • This one forms the basis of many hymns
  • Six feet per line
  • Six feet the first line, five feet the next line

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