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.
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