Prosody


An important part of poetic analysis is poetic scansion, or the identification of rhythm and meter within a given poem. Here are some important definitions you need to know for the study of prosody:

  1. rhythm - the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry
  2. meter - the number of feet, or groupings of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry
In formal verse, there is both rhythm and meter, and the rhythm will (usually) support a poem's theme/meaning. In free verse, there is no constant meter, although there is rhythm (which, in a well-written poem, will be manipulated for effect). In blank verse, there is no rhyme, but there is a definite rhythm/metrical pattern.

Poetic Rhythm


Poetic rhythm is the classification of stressed and unstressed syllables in a verse of poetry. Here are the six most common poetic meterical units found in Western poetry:

Iamb / x unstressed; stressed I long to see my love
Trochee x / stressed; unstressed When I saw her die in peace
Anapest / / x unstressed; unstressed; stressed If you see the unrest in my eyes, let me die
Dactyl x / / stressed; unstressed; unstressed Come to my home and enjoy what I have
*Pyrrhic // unstressed; unstressed Smiling as they run
*Spondee xx stressed; stressed Men see!

*It is important to note that pyrrhics and spondees are only used as VARIATIONS of the other four metrical units. You will NEVER find a poem composed mainly of pyrrhics and spondees.


Poetic Meter

Meter is the number of stressed and unstressed syllabic groupings or units. A foot is a single metrical unit. The number of feet is ascertained by dividing the number of syllables into corresponding metrical units. The number of units per line equals the number of feet.

1 foot = monometer
2 feet = dimeter
3 feet = trimester
4 feet = tetrameter
5 feet = pentameter
6 feet = hexameter
7 feet = heptameter
8 feet = octameter

Scansion: Putting Rhythm and Meter Together

To determine the scansion of a particular poem, you combine the rhythm and meter together to create the poetic scansion.

Example:

If you see the unrest in my eyes, let me die


Step 1: Separate the line into syllables

If | you | see | the | un | rest | in | my | eyes | let | me | die


Step 2: Once you have separated the line into syllables, mark the stressed (x) syllables and unstressed (/) syllables (determining RHYTHM)

/ / x / / x / / x / / x
If | you | see | the | un | rest | in | my | eyes | let | me | die

As you can see, we have the ANAPEST metrical unit above (/ / x)


Step 3: Once you have identified the stressed and unstressed syllables, group them into metrical units (determining METER).

[ / / x ] [ / / x ] [ / / x] [ / / x]
If | you | see | the | un | rest | in | my | eyes | let | me | die


We have four groups of anapest metrical units (remember - one metrical unit equals one foot): four groups equal four feet. We have ANAPESTIC TETRAMETER