METER AND FEET



Literary Devices/ Poetic Devices


2. METER/METRE & FEET 

  • What is meter in poetry? 
  • Definition of meter/metre. 
  • Types of meters.
  • How to identify the meter in a line?
  • What is foot/feet in poetry?
  • Types of feet.
  • Number of feet in a line.
  • Identifying the meter of a line.
  • Some technical terms.


NOTE- Spelling difference:

Meter (American English), Metre (British English). 


Meter/Metre is the recurrence of syllable patterns in a verse line, divided in groups of feet, consisting of stressed and unstressed syllables. It gives the number of feet used in each line of a poem. It gives rhythm to poetry. It is the structure or pattern of rhythm, it is a measurable device, that is specified for a verse line. The meter is determined by the recurrent patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables composing the words of a verse line. The study of the theory and practice of meter is called metrics.  


Different types of meters/metres:


  • Quantitative- it is based on the duration of the utterance of the syllables. It consists of recurrent patterns of short and long syllables. 

          Eg- Used in classic Greek and Latin


  • Syllabic- it depends on the number of syllables within a verse line. It doesn't consider the stresses. 

          Eg- Used in French and Romantic languages


  • Accentual- it depends on the number of stressed syllables within a verse line. It doesn't regard the number of unstressed syllables. 

          Eg- Used in Old German and Old English.


  • Accentual-syllabic- as the name suggests it contains both the features: of stress and syllables. It consists of a recurrent pattern of stresses on a recurrent number of syllables.

          Eg- Used in modern English language.


The 'accentual-syllabic' type or the 'stress and syllable' type meter is the most dominant meter in English poetry. 



How to identify the meter in a line? 

To identify the meter of a verse line we need to categorize it in two categories: 1. Types of feet & 2. The number of feet in a line. 






What is feet in poetry?

Foot- a unit of measurement for the number of syllables in a poetic/verse line. It is the combination of stressed and unstressed syllables forming a group. Each group consists of two or three syllables and thus it makes a foot. Plural of foot is called feet.


[For the meaning of syllables, stressed, unstressed syllables and verse line click here.]


NOTE- in our article the sign ' ^ ' will denote an unstressed syllable , the sign ' ` ' will denote a stressed syllable and the sign ' | ' will count a foot.


 1. Types of feet:

  • Iambic- derived from the word "iamb" - an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. 

Eg-

Thê cùr | fêw tòlls | thê knèll | ôf pàr | tîng dày. |

(Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard). Here 2 syllables (one unstressed followed by a stressed) form a foot. There are 5 feet. 



  • Trochaic- derived from the word "trochee" - a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable.

Eg- 

Ònce ûp | òn â | mìd nîght | drèa rî | whìle Î | pòn dêred | wèak ând | wèa rî. |

( Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven). 

Here 2 syllables (one stressed followed by an unstressed) form a foot. There are 8 feet.



  • Anapestic- derived from the word "anapest" - two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable. 

Eg-

 Twâs thê nìght | bê fôre Chrìst | mâs, whên àll | thrôugh thê hòuse. |

(Clement Clarke Moore's Twas the Night before Christmas).

Here 3 syllables (two unstressed followed by a stressed) form a foot. There are 4 feet. 



  • Dactylic- derived from the word "dactyl" - a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables. 
  • Eg- 
  • Arè yôu stîll | stànd îng thêre | èast ôf thê | gàr dên ôf | èd ên, ôr. |

 (Stan Galloway's Angels’ First Assignment).

Here 3 syllables (one stressed followed by two unstressed) form a foot. There are 5 feet.


The above four (Iambic, Trochaic, Anapestic and Dactylic) are the most important and prominently used styles of feet. 





The following two (Spondaic and Pyrrhic) are irregular metrical feet and are not used to compose full lines of poetry. They are generally used as a part of a line to create some specific effect. 


  • Spondaic- derived from the word "spondee" - a foot composed of two successive stressed syllables, generally. 

Eg- Slòw, slòw, | frèsh fòunt, | keèp tìme | wîth my | sàlt tèars; |

(Ben Jonson's Slow, Slow, Fresh Fount).

Here 2 successive stressed syllables also form a foot. 



  • Pyrrhic- a foot composed of two successive unstressed syllables, generally. 

   Eg-  

  My wây | îs tô | bê gìn | wîth thê | bê gìn nîng. | 

   (Lord Byron's Don Juan).

   Here 2 successive unstressed syllables also form a foot.



2. The number of feet in a line:


  • Monometer- a verse line having one foot.

  • Dimeter- a verse line having two feet.

  • Trimeter- a verse line having three feet.

  • Tetrameter- a verse line having four feet.

  • Pentameter- a verse line having five feet.

  • Hexameter- a verse line having six feet.

  • Heptameter- a verse line having seven feet.

  • Octameter- a verse line having eight feet.


[For the detailed description of Rhyme click here]






Identifying the meter of a line:


Finally! We can identify the meter of a line by using the two above categorization: 1. Types of feet & 2. The number of feet in a line


      Examples-


  • Thê cùr | fêw tòlls | thê knèll | ôf pàr | tîng dày. |

       (Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard).

        Type of feet-  Iambic.

        Number of feet-  five (pentameter).

        The meter of this line is 'iambic pentameter' .



  • Twâs thê nìght | bê fôre Chrìst | mâs, whên àll | thrôugh thê hòuse. |

       (Clement Clarke Moore's Twas the Night before Christmas).

        Type of feet-    Anapestic.

        Number of feet-   four (tetrameter).

        The meter of this line is 'anapestic tetrameter' .



  • Ònce ûp | òn â | mìd nîght | drèa rî | whìle Î | pòn dêred | wèak ând | wèa rî. |

        ( Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven).

         Type of feet-   Trochaic.

         Number of feet-   eight (octameter)

         The meter of this line is 'trochaic octameter' .



  • Arè yôu stîll | stànd îng thêre | èast ôf thê | gàr dên ôf | èd ên, ôr. |

        (Stan Galloway's Angels’ First Assignment).

        Type of feet-   Dactylic.

        Number of feet-   five (pentameter)

        The meter of this line is 'dactylic pentameter' . 



'Iambic pentameter' is the most used meter/metre




Some technical terms:


  • Rising meter- Meter that has the stressed syllable at the end of the foot is called rising meter. 

           Eg-  Iambic and Anapestic.



  • Falling meter- Meter that has the stressed syllable at the beginning of the foot is called falling meter. 

           Eg-  Trochaic and Dactylic.



  • Duple meter- Meter that has two syllables in a foot is called duple meter.

          Eg-  Iambic and Trochaic.



  • Triple meter- Meter that has three syllables in a foot is called triple meter. 

          Eg-  Anapestic and Dactylic.



  • Masculine ending- When a verse line ends with a stressed syllable it is said to have a masculine ending. 

          Eg- 

          Thê cùr | fêw tòlls | thê knèll | ôf pàr | tîng dày. |

          (Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard).

          The last syllable is stressed. 



  • Feminine ending- When a verse line ends with an unstressed syllable it is said to have a feminine ending. 

          Eg-

         Â thìng | ôf bèau | tî ìs | â jòy | fôr è vêr |

         (John Keats' Endymion).

         The last syllable is unstressed.



  • Catalectic- There are verse lines that do not have the final syllable. Such types of lines or any verse lines that do not have the final syllable are called catalectic. 

          Eg- 

         Jùst fôr â | hànd fûl ôf | sìl vêr hê | lèft ûs    . |

         (Robert Browning's The Lost Leader).

This is a dactylic meter verse line but it lacks the final syllable (Dactylic meter consists of 3 syllables: a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables). In the last foot of the above verse line there are only 2 syllables, instead of 3 syllables, and it does not have the final syllable. 

 

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