Meter in Poetry, a la Shmoop.
If we told you to watch for iambs>, trochees>, spondees>,
anapests>and dactyls>… …you might cover your head with your hands
and run screaming for the nearest shelter… …hoping against hope that none of them are
hungry. But, in fact, these “fantastic five” are nothing
more than types of poetic “feet.” And those feet? They help add rhythm and meter to a
line of poetry. Oh yeah… it’s not just jazz musicians who
need to lay down a funky beat. Poetry is big on beauty, and ideas, and feelings,
sure… but in many cases, it also relies on meter to evoke a certain response from
the reader. During poetry’s humble beginnings… …meter was introduced not so much to make
poems sing-songy… …but to simply help remember the dang things.
Which way is easier to remember what you need to get at the grocery store? A list like this? Or a poem like this: The milk is gone
And yogurt, too I need some Dawn
And a new shampoo We’re low on rye
The eggs are out Could use some pie
And sauerkraut. Catchy, no? And it’s not just because the poem rhymes. It’s because there is a natural flow… a
rhythm… to the words. Let’s take a look at a version of our shopping
poem that is lacking in rhythm. The milk is gone
And somebody polished off the last of the yogurt, too
I need to get some Dawn And shampoo
We’re running low on our rye The eggs were eaten this morning and so they’re
just about out Since we don’t have any dessert on hand it
would be nice to stock up on pie And we should also probably get sauerkraut. Still rhymes. But yikes. Probably not something
you’d see come out of poet laureate. Meter is absent in free verse poetry, but
there is still rhythm. Not every line needs to have a certain number
of syllables… …and you can switch up where you stress
certain words… …but even free verse makes you feel as if
there is some kind of music infused into the language.
Try playing around with meter yourself, and see what happens. If all else fails, at least you won’t run
out of sauerkraut.