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by Tami Krueger
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The traditional units of stressed and unstressed metered verse are called feet. There are usually the same number of feet in each line of metered verse, as well as the same type of foot pattern throughout the poem.
Determining the metrical foot of a poem is termed scansion, and there are only six types of classical feet needed in order to determine the scansion of a line of English verse.
The chart below may help illuminate these classical feet. The two rows on the left are the terminology and the two columns on the right demonstrate their definition. Using this guide while reading a few favorite poems may help the poet better understand how meter is achieved in a poem.
An Iambic foot in a line of poetry is a metrical foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. An example of the iamb can be found in the poetry of Shakespeare (such as Sonnet 18), John Donne (Holy Sonnet XIV), and many other classical English poets.FOOT ADJECTIVE STRESS PATTERN EXAMPLES Iamb Iambic da-DUM ExCEPT, The DEER Trochee Trochaic DUM-da ASKing, LOST it Anapest Anapestic da-da-DUM UnderSTAND Dactyl Dactylic DUM-da-da HEAvily, TALK to me Spondee Spondaic DUM-DUM Heartbreak, faithful Pyrrhic Pyrrhic da-da In the, On a
The stanza below is taken from a poem written by Edna St. Vincent Millay, titled "Renascence" and is a good example of the iambic foot. The symbols ~ and / represent unstressed and stressed syllables respectively.
A trochaic foot is the opposite of an iambic foot in that it consists of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. It is a foot that is rarely perfectly followed throughout a poems entirety. Longfellow's "The Song Of Hiawatha," with a few diversions into iambic, spondaic and pyrrhic, is one of the few poems that come close. Also counted among these rarities is Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven." The exception to this observation is that the trochaic foot is fairly common in children's rhymes.~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / All I could see from where I stood ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / Was three long mountains and a wood;
The anapestic foot is a foot that is made up of two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable, such as in sev en teen. Very few poems consist of a strict anapestic foot. Some such poems that are written in anapestic foot are Lord Byron's "The Destruction Of Sennacherib," as well as Will Cowper's "Verses Supposed To Be Written By Alexander Selkirk, During His Solitary Abode In The Island Of San Fernandez:"/ ~ / ~ / ~ / Eeny, meeny, miny, moe / ~ / ~ / ~ / Catch a tiger by the toe
The dactylic foot is characterized by one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables. Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade" is one of the most popular poems written in dactylic foot:~ ~ / ~ ~ / ~ ~ / From the centre all round to the sea, ~ ~ / ~ ~ / ~ ~ / I am lord of the fowl and the brute.
The spondaic foot is one in which both syllables within the foot are stressed. It would be confusing at best to literate an entire poem consisting of purely spondaic feet due to the complete stress on each syllable. For this reason, the spondee is usually used to break up another foot such as the anapest. The example below is from Gerard Manley Hopkins' "Pied Beauty." The second line is marked by Hopkins to note the spondee:/ ~ ~ / ~ ~ Half a league, half a league / ~ ~ / ~ Half a league onward,
Sometimes referred to as a dibrach, the pyrrhic foot contains two unaccented syllables. Due to the monotonous, or redundant sound, the pyrrhic foot is not used to construct an entire poem. Much like the anapest and the dactyl, the pyrrhic is often found within the framework of the poem, but does not make up the entire structure."Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough; And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim."
For instance, Lord Byron's "Don Juan," contains a fine example of pyrrhic feet:
Determining the scansion of poems is a good way to learn about meter and foot in poetry. This is helpful for poets who strive for a deeper understanding of the craft of poetry, with the additional benefit of fostering a greater appreciation for those who practice the art of metered verse."My way is to begin with the beginning."
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Tami Krueger is a freelance writer living in Oregon, USA. She has had articles published in 18th Century History, and is a contributing author for the magazine Brandlady. She has authored one book of poetry and is currently spearheading a website that showcases historical female characters.