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Poetry Meter

Poetry Meter

In poetry, one of the defining characteristics is its use of meter. Poetry meter is the basic rhythmic structure of the verse. Many poems are written with specific patterns of syllables, with the number of syllables and their stresses being identifiable. Perhaps the most famous example of poetry meter is iambic pentameter, which was largely employed by William Shakespeare in his plays.

Iambic pentameter uses a "foot," called an iamb, in which an unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable. Iambic pentameter means that a line of poetry has five of these feet, in a pattern: da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM. Other poets beside Shakespeare have used iambic pentameter as their meter in poetry. Robert Frost, for example, also frequently used iambic meter, such as in his work "Stopping by Woods": "Whose woods these are I think I know." In this case, Frost was using iambic tetrameter, or four feet of iambs per line.

When discussing poetry meter, there are in fact, seven types of feet: iamb, trochee, spondee, anapest, dactyl, amphibrach, and Pyrrhic. Iambic meter, as stated is unstressed followed by stressed. Trochee is the opposite, stressed followed by unstressed. Spondaic meter is two stressed syllables. Pyrrhic is two unstressed syllables. The other meters employ three syllables. Anapest is unstressed, unstressed, stressed; Dactyl is stressed, unstressed, unstressed, and Amphibrach is unstressed, stressed, unstressed. Thus one can see that poetry meter can require some skill and dexterity with language.

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Essays on poetry meter discuss the basic rhythmic structure of verses in poetry.

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