PhD Poetry comps – Meter

meter
the recurrence in poetry of a rhythmic pattern or the rhythm established by the regular occurrence of similar units of sound. In other words, the most fundamental technique of order available to a poet. —– is artifice because it frames what a poet says and how the poet says it. There are four basic patterns (accentual, accentual-syllabic, syllabic, and quantitative). The rhythmic unit within the line is called a foot.

base meter
the meter the poet has established in the metrical contract with the reader; it provides the grid to which the poet may vary.

metrical contract
John Hollander has spoken of this- what the reader comes to expect when reading a poem. This term refers to the meter or rhythm that the poet establishes in the first line; irregularity or variation from it is noticeable, and thus the variation should have meaning, though variation also reminds us as readers that we’re hearing human speech, not robot speech. Meter is illusion and often the illusion is created by the mind of the reader more so than by the pen of the poet.

metrical variation
variation from the established meter of a poem, used to break the monotony of a single metrical pattern. Variation/ surprise is the very essence of the artist’s trade, and the most important source of metrical power and pleasure is the perpetual tension between the regular and irregular, between the expected and the unexpected, between the base rhythm and the variation.

spondaic substitution
this term generally refers to substituting a spondee for an iamb, though if the poem is written in trochaic meter, it could refer to a spondee replacing a trochee. It slows the line down, because a spondee carries a lot of weight. It often follows a pyrrhic foot, but it doesn’t have to.

duple foot
a foot of two syllables – iamb, trochee, spondee, pyrrhic

triple foot
a foot of three syllables – anapests, dactyls, amphibrachs, or amphimacers. These types of feet often seem vaguely joyous, comical, whimsical, or superficial.

trochaic substitution
substituting a trochee for an iamb in a poem written in iambic meter; it is the most common substitution in English poetry.

oracular line break
designated by John Hollander (who discussed the metrical contract); this term refers to the type of line break that can be heard by the listener – in particular, poems that employ this exhibit unvarying line integrity, often with “anaphora” – this device also creates an effect of public speaking – for example, in Ginsberg’s “Howl,” it is clear to the listener where the line ends due to anaphora

falling meter
meter written in feet in which the first syllable is accented (as in a trochee or a dactyl). The reader feels a “descent” in the line, though this meter does not necessarily invoke depression or gloom.

rising meter
meter written in feet in which the last syllable is accented; thus, in English the “iamb” and the “anapest” constitute this type of meter. The reader feels an “ascent” in each line, but this type of rhythm does not necessarily indicate a feeling of aspiration or cheer.

poetic license
violation of the rules of versification; the privilege claimed by poets to depart from normal order, diction, rhyme or pronunciation. In the 17th century, Dryden described such license as the liberty taken by all poets in all ages to liberate their work from the strictness of established forms.

versification
the principles and practice of writing verse. “What a poem says or means is the result of how it is said, a fact that poets are often at pains to emphasize”

volta
the “turn” in a sonnet. The change in direction of argument or narrative. In a Petrarchan sonnet, the turn typically occurs somewhere in the white space that separates lines 8 and 9. This “turn” should present a logical or emotional shift by which the speaker enables himself to take a new or altered or enlarged view of his subject. It may occur within line 9 of a Miltonic sonnet, and usually appears after line 12 in an English sonnet or Spenserian sonnet.

stress
the emphasis given to a spoken syllable

scansion
1. any system representing poetic rhythms with visual symbols. 2. An analysis of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry; it is done to determine how a line is divided into metrical feet.

syllable
the basic unit of pronunciation; it can consist of a vowel sound alone or a vowel with attendant consonants

ictus
symbol used for a stressed syllable ( / )

breve
symbol used for an unstressed syllable (?)

anapest
two unaccented syllables followed by an accented syllable. (? ? /) This foot constitutes a rising meter; it has a naturally energetic movement, making it suitable for vigorous subjects. It often seems joyous or light, but Dickey used it for the opposite effect in “The Lifeguard.”

dactyl
an accented syllable followed by two unaccented syllables (/? ?); it has a naturally energetic movement and constitutes a falling meter; this foot is suitable for poems with vigorous subjects

iamb
a poetic foot consisting of an unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable (? /). This foot constitutes rising meter; it is the dominant rhythm of English poetry because it is the meter closest to that of ordinary speech. This foot carries a certain weight, making it a natural choice for poems on solemn subjects.

spondee
two accented syllables together with approximately equal stresses ( / / ). This foot slows a line down and emphasize emotion in a line.

trochee
poetic foot consisting of an accented syllable followed by an unaccented syllable (/ ?); this constitutes a falling meter; it has a light, quick, buoyant movement.

pyrrhic
two unaccented syllables together (? ?); when used in accentual-syllabic verse, this foot provides a quiet moment in a line. It can be useful in metrical variation/ substitution, which relieves a line from the monotony of iambs, or its use can emphasize a following stress; the lightness of this foot also could add a lightness to the line.

monometer
a metrical line containing one foot; it could suggest to the eye the narrow inscription of a gravestone or the brevity and loneliness of life.

dimeter
a metrical line containing two feet; Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” is written in dactylic _____, which provides a sense of galloping momentum.

trimeter
a line consisting of three feet. ex. Theodore Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz” is written in iambic —–. Also, every other line in the English ballad stanza is written in iambic ——.

tetrameter
a line consisting of four feet; ex. Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” is written in iambic —-; also, the ballad stanza consists of alternating lines of iambic —- and iambic trimeter

pentameter
a line consisting of five feet. The most common line length in English poetry, particularly due to its association with blank verse and sonnets. The line provides just enough space for the poet to include modifiers (adjectives and adverbs) without exhausting the reader; it constitutes the base rhythm of poems from the 14th century to the present.

hexameter
a line consisting of six feet. iambic —– is also known as an “Alexandrine” ; this type of line is often used to provide a resonance or termination to a stanza of shorter lines. For ex., in the Spenserian stanza, the first 8 lines are iambic pentameter, but the 9th line is iambic —–.

heptameter
a line consisting of seven feet. it could be broken into alternating lines of tetrameter and trimeter, thus creating the ballad stanza. Iambic —— is also known as “fourteeners” due to the number of syllables per line

octameter
a metrical line containing eight feet