What is the meter in a poem?

 In the Western poetics culture, meters are usually grouped according to a characteristic metrical foot and the number of feet per line. Thus “iambic pentameter” is a meter containing five feet per line, in which the predominant king of the foot is the “iamb”.

This metric method began in ancient Greek Poetry and was used by poets such as Pindar and Sappho, and by the great tragedians of Athens. Similarly, “dactylic hexameter” comprises six feet per lines of which the dominant kind of foot is the “dactyl”.

Dactylic hexameter was the common meter of Greek Epic Poetry, the presently extant example of which are the works of Homer and Hesiod. More recently iambic pentameter and dactylic hexameter have been used by William Shakespeare and Henry Wordsworth Longfellow, respectively.

Meter is usually considered based on the composition of “Poetic feet” into lines. In English, each foot usually includes one syllable with stress and one or two without stress. In order languages, it may be a mixture of the number of syllables and the length of the vowel that defines how the foot is parsed, where one syllable with a long vowel may be used as the equivalent of two syllables with short vowels.

For example in Early Greek Poetry, the meter is based only on syllable duration rather than passion. In some languages, such as English, accented syllables are typically pronounced with more fabulous volume, greater length, and higher pitch, and are the basis for the lyric meter.

In ancient Greek, these attributes were independent of each other; long vowels and syllables including a vowel plus more than one consonant actually had the longer duration, approximately double that of a short vowel, while offering and stress (dictated by the accent) were not connected with term and played no role in a meter.

Thus a dactylic hexameter line could be envisioned as a musical phrase with six measure, each of which contained either a half note followed by two-quarter notes (i.e. a long syllable replaced by two small syllables) or two half notes (i.e. two long syllables); thus the exchange of two short syllables for one long syllable followed in a measure of the same length.

Such replacement in a stress language, such as English would not appear in the same rhythmic regularity. In Anglo- Saxon meter, the unit on which lines are built is a half-line containing two stress rather than afoot. The scanning meter usually shows the basics or basic pattern bearing a verse but does not show the different degrees of stress, as well as the differing pitch and length of syllables.

As an example of how a line of the meter is defined, in English-Language iambic pentameter, each line has five metrical feet, and each foot is an iamb or an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.

When an appropriate line is scanned, there may be changes upon the basic pattern of the meter, for example, the first foot of English iambic pentameter is considerably often inverted, meaning that the stress falls on the first syllables. The generally taken names for some of the most commonly used kinds of feet include:

A Holiday example to Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark” which is written chiefly in anapestic tetrameter. “in the middle of the world he was trying to say / In the midst of his laughter and glee / He had softly and quickly vanished away / for the snark was a boojum, you see.”

  •     Iamb- one unstressed syllable supported by a stressed syllable
  •          Trochee- one stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable
  •           Dactyl- one stressed syllable replaced by two unstressed syllable
  •           Anapest- two unstressed syllables replaced by one stressed syllable
  •           Spondee-two stressed syllable together
  •           Pyrrhic- two unstressed syllables commonly (rare, normally used to end dactylic hexameter)

The number of metrical feet in a line are defined in the Greek language as follows

  •          Dimeter- two feet
  •          Trimester- three feet
  •          Tetrameter- four feet
  •          Pentameter- five feet
  •          Hexameter- six feet
  •          Heptameter- seven feet
  •          Octameter- eight feet

There is a broad range of names for other kinds of feet, right up to a choriamb of four syllables metric foot with a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed with a stressed syllable. The choriamb is obtained from some old Greek and Latin poetry.

A language that used vowel length or intonation rather than or in supplement to syllabic accents in managing meters, such as Ottoman Turkish or Vedic, usually has concepts related to the iamb and dactyl to describe the common mixture of long and short sound.

Each of these characters of feet has a certain “feel,” whether alone or in alliance with other feet. The iamb, for example, is the most common form of rhythm in the English language, and usually delivers a subtle but stable verse. The dactyl, on the other hand, most gallops along. And, in the style of The Night Before Christmas or Dr Seuss, the anapest is said to create a light-hearted, comic feel.

There is discussion over how useful a multiplicity of many “feet” is in describing meter. For example, Robert Pinsky has shown that while dactyls are essential in classical verse, English dactylic verse uses dactyls very unevenly and can be better described based on patterns of iambs and anapests, feet which he reflects natural to the language.

Actual rhythm is significantly more difficult than the basic scanned meter explained above, and many scholars have tried to develop systems that would scan such complexity. Vladimir Nabokov wrote that overlaid on top of the normal pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of verse was a separate pattern of accents resulting from the natural tone of the spoken words, and recommended that the term “scud” be used to identify an unaccented stress form ai accented stress.

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