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.

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 rhythm 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

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