Tony Morris - Poetry Writing Workshop    

Click here to buy
my new book
Back To Cain


Scansion:

Basic Feet
Basic Meters



The Forms

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to Top

 

Form

Poetry is different than almost every other literary genre because form, the way the words fit on the page, is so important to the meaning of the poem. Unlike other genres, the precise placement of words on a page are in some ways at the very heart of poetry.

Before the advent of the moderns (and hence, the rise of popularity for free-verse form), poetry was always taking shape in a formalized, structured environment. Poets took great care in deciding how to fit the content of the poem to the form—whether that meant writing a sonnet, or a villanelle, using iambic pentameter, or trochaic tetrameter, or writing in blank verse (like Shakespeare, or Milton), form was always, and continues to be, important (despite the many attempts to escape from its strictures).

In this section, I will introduce you to the basic "classical" forms and discuss how each of these forms can be used to strengthen your writing and help you to add another element to your toolchest of poetic devices.


Scansion

 

Scansion is the analysis of a line of poetry for foot and meter. To "scan" a line of poetry means to analyze it rhythmically.


Rules for scanning

 

When you wish to analyze the rhythm of a poem, you need to be able to distinguish between loud and soft syllables in words. Before we even begin to talk about lines of poetry, we have to talk about the basic building blocks of lines: individual words. Use the following rules to prepare yourself to scan poetry:

 

1. Place accent marks ( / ) in multi-syllable words on the syllables that sound louder than other syllables.

 

All multi-syllable English words have fixed accents. For example, the word "vocabulary" is pronounced in only one way, with two syllables pronounced more loudly than the other syllables:


vo  CAB  u  LAR  y

The pattern would look like this:

_    /    _    /    _

 

To pronounce the word any other way would seem odd. For example, trying pronouncing the word in the following way:


VO ca  BU  lar  y

This pattern sounds funny with this pronunciation:

/    _    /    _    _

 

Now let's try working with a full line of poetry. The following line contains several multi-syllable words with built-in accents:

 

THE CRAZY CAT AND THE RAGGEDY MOUSE

RAN IN CIRCLES ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE.

 

Did you pronounce the words in the following way?

CRA zy
 
RAG gedy

CIR cle

 

2. Now place accent marks on important single syllable words (e.g., nouns and action verbs).

Which of the single syllable words would you consider important?

 

THE CRAZY CAT AND THE RAGGEDY MOUSE

RAN IN CIRCLES ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE

 

You will probably select the following single syllable words as important:

 

THE CRAZY CAT AND THE RAGGEDY MOUSE

RAN IN CIRCLES ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE

 

Unimportant words are generally articles ("the," "a") and prepositions ("on," "with," "for").

 

the CRAzy CAT and the RAGgedy MOUSE

RAN in CIRcles all THROUGH the HOUSE.

 

3. Finally, place short horizontal lines ( - ) above unimportant words (articles, prepositions) and unaccented syllables in multisyllable words. Thus the Field is scanned:

 

-    /    -    /    -   -   /  -  -  /

the CRAzy CAT and the RAGgedy MOUSE

 

/    -    /    -  -   /  -   /
RAN in CIRcles all THROUGH the HOUSE.

 

You are probably noticing a rhythmic pattern as you say this line aloud. You are just about ready to break the line into units (called "feet") and to give the line a fancy name. But first we have to learn the names of basic feet.

     Basic Feet

The basic unit used for counting accents in poetry is called a foot. Each foot has either two syllables in it or three syllables in it. There are four basic feet, two for two-syllable units and two for three-syllable units: the names are Greek because we trace one system of poetic scansion back to the Greeks. Even though their system (also used by the Romans) was quantitative and ours today is qualitative, we have retained their names. Here are the basic four feet: Iambic, Troche, Anapest, Dactyl.

 

The iambic foot consists of two syllables, the first of which is spoken softer than the second. The following words are all examples of iambic feet:

_      /
sug gest

_      /
pre tend

_     /
Re né (name of a person called René)

 

The trochaic foot consists of two syllables, the first of which is spoken louder than the second. The following words are all examples of trochaic feet:

/  _
prob lem

/  _
rath er

/  _
Rob ert (name of a person called Robert)

 

The anapestic foot consists of three syllables, the first of which is spoken softer than the second and third. The following words are all examples of anapestic feet:

_  _    /
in ter rupt

_  _     /
un der stand

_  _     /
ap pre hend

 

The dactylic foot consists of three syllables, the first of which is spoken louder than the second and third. The following words are all examples of trochaic feet:

/    _     _
mur mur ing

/   _   _
ru mi nate

/    _     _
Hen der son (name of a person called Henderson)

 

There are also two auxillary feet that are sometimes necessary to use in scanning a line of poetry:

 

The spondaic foot consists of two syllables, both loud. There is no unaccented syllable in a spondee.

/     /
sea gull

/      /
pen guin

 

The pyrrhic foot consists of two syllables, both soft. There is no unaccented syllable in a pyrrhic foot.

_    _
in  the

_     _
as  he

 

If you feel that you need to complete your lexicon of feet, there are two more feet in addition to the above six, but they are used so infrequently in scansion, you really do need not to worry about using them. They are both three-syllable feet. They are called:

 

amphibrach

 

amphimacer

 

You can get along perfectly well doing scansion without knowing these two feet.

 

Basic Meters

A number of feet in a line of poetry constitutes a meter. There is, theoretically, an infinite number of feet possible for any line of poetry, but poetry tends to be written in short rather than long lines, so we traditionally stop our line counts at eight. The following list represents the basic eight meters, each dependent upon the number of feet in the line:

 

monometer =

a line of poetry with only one foot

dimeter       =

a line with two feet

trimeter       =

a line with three feet

tetrameter   =

a line with four feet

pentameter =

a line with five feet (Shakespeare's favorite)

hexameter   =

a line with six feet (the French love it)

heptameter =

a line with seven feet

octameter    =

a line with eight feet

 

 

Handy definitions to remember:

Foot is a unit of meter.

Meter is rhythm.


Now that you've been introduced to scansion, click on The Forms (here, or at the top left sideber) and learn more about some of the most common forms.

 

Part 1 -
Part 2 -
Part 3 -
Part 4 -
Part 5 -
Part 6 -
Part 7 -

Part 8 -
Content
Connections
Imagery
Form
Free Verse
Types
Opening/
Closing

Revision

Exercises

 
Click here to add the site to your favourites now