Poetic Meter, Feet, and Rhythm (basic notes)

Although rhythm is a natural occurrence when words are strung together, in poetry, rhythm and meter is deliberate, a conscious choice. The decision to employ any given meter and thereby create a certain rhythm is a pressure for the poet to make their work the best they believe it can be.

Thus, rhythm in poetic context becomes a form of measurement, with each unit of measurement being called a foot. A foot can be thought of as a building block in a line of poetry. English poetry applies five basic rhythm structures varying in stressed (/) and unstressed (-) syllables. These five basic meters consist of iambs, spondees, trochees, anapests, and dactyls.

Rhythms with two syllable feet:
• IAMBIC -/ (example word: excite)
• TROCHAIC /- (example word: deadline)
• SPONDAIC // (example words: true blue)

Rhythms with three syllable feet:
• DACTYLIC /– (example: Frequently)
• ANAPESTIC –/ (example: to the park)

Each line of meter contains a certain number of feet, or a certain amount of building blocks. A line containing just one foot is therefore considered as ‘monometer’, two feet ‘dimeter’ and so on.
(1) Monometer
(2) Dimeter
(3) Trimeter
(4) Tetrameter
(5) Pentameter
(6) Hexameter
(7) Heptameter
(8) Octameter

Meter can also be described in overall terms. A poem containing feet that end on an unstressed syllable is described as falling meter. Consequently a poem with feet ending on a stressed syllable is rising meter.

Other means of describing meter:

According to how lines end…

Masculine lines: individual examples that end with a stressed syllable
Feminine lines: individual examples ending with an unstressed syllable

According to line breaks or punctual pauses…

Caesura: a break or pause that occurs within a metrical line
Feminine caesura: a pause that follows an unstressed syllable
Masculine caesura: a pause following a stressed syllable
Enjambment: when the syntax carries over across a line break


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