Breaking Down Rhythm
In poetryOpens in new window, each individual rhythm is made up of pattern of stressed and unstressed syllable called a footOpens in new window. A line of verse is made up of one (foot) or more feet (plural).
A collection of premeasured patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables are called meters. Foot is a unit of meterOpens in new window. Meters are the pattern of feet within a line of verse.
Types of Meter
There are five main types of beats, or meter, that we use in poetry. Here, we will take a brief look at each type. In poetry, rhythm is expressed through stressed and unstressed syllables. Take the word, poetry, for example. The first syllable is stressed, and the last two are unstressed, as in PO-e-try. Here are the most common types of meter in the English language:
- Iamb: The Iamb is a pattern of one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable, as in the word: en-JOY.
- Trochee: The trochee is one stressed syllable followed by one unstressed syllable, as in the word: CON-quer.
- Spondee: The spondee is a pattern of two stressed syllables in poetry. The pattern may cross over from word to word in a poem. An example of spondee might be: GO! GO! Both 1-syllable words are stressed.
- Anapest: The anapest is a combination of two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable. Take this phrase: to the NORTH. The first two syllables are unstressed, while the final syllable is stressed.
- Dactyl: The dactyl is the opposite of the anapest, in that it has one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables as in the phrase: FLY a-way.
There are ten syllables in iamb pentameterOpens in new window, in which the second syllable is emphatically stressed. As snugly expressed in Williams Shakespeare’s Sonnet above. For easier identification, the stressed syllables are capitalized.
Above lines of verse depicts iambic tetrameter, in which there exists four iambs per line. Here again the stressed syllables are capitalized.