Rhythm, Feet and Lines

Rhythm is a recurring beat or accent. When we write poetry
and use rhythm, we write words so their sounds will have a
beat. You look and listen for the accent or the natural stress
of the words and arrange them in poetic lines. These lines are composed of units called poetic feet, a rhythmic unit of two
or three syllables. While there are other kinds of feet, we'll concentrate here on the basic ones.

The Four Basic Feet in English Verse
     Iamb (iambic) e.g., believe.
               Rising duple rhythm (be LIEVE)
     Anapest (anapestic) e.g., interfere.
               Rising triple rhythm (in ter FERE)
     Trochee (trochaic) e.g., pondered.
               Falling duple rhythm (PON der'd)
     Dactyl (dactylic) e.g., happily.
               Falling triple rhythm (HAP pi ly)

The Length of Lines in Poetry
     Monometer - a line of one foot
     Dimeter - a line of two feet
     Trimeter - a line of three feet
     Tetrameter - a line of four feet
     Pentameter - a line of five feet
     Hexameter - a line of six feet
     Heptameter - a line of seven feet
     Octameter - a line of eight feet

You can describe a line of poetry by an above length, e.g. pentameter. You can also describe it by the kind of foot
and by the number of feet in a line. Thus, a line composed
of five iambs or iambic feet is called iambic pentameter.

It might be helpful if we look at the words for counting in
Latin and Greek:

Combining forms
Combining forms
One Unus Uni Mono
Two Duo Du, Bi Dys, Dy, Di
Three Tres Tri Tri
Four Quattuor Quadr Tetra
Five Quinque Quint Penta
Six Sex Sext Hexa
Seven Septem Sept Hepta
Eight Octo Octo Octo
Nine Novem Nov, Non Ennea
Ten Decem Decim Deca

One can see, for example, how the pentameter in iambic pentameter corresponds to penta meaning "five" in Greek.
Once one sees this, things fall into place better and make
more sense. To step for a moment into another area, to see
how this works, take the months of the year. It used to be
that the Roman year began in March and some of the months
took their names from the Latin numbers of the Romans. Thus, septem, octo, novem, and decem are found in September, October, November, and December, the seventh through
the tenth months of the Roman calendar.

If the word dactylic in dactylic foot looks strange, remember
in Greek that daktylos meant finger, thus the name of the flying reptile, pterodactyl, was derived from petron (wing), and daktylos (finger). The pterodactyl was a smaller variety of the pterosaur (winged lizard) which had a leathery membrane stretched out to the end of a very large fourth finger, the other fingers being smaller and free. Now look at the dactylic foot. The greater sound or stress is on the first part with two lesser-sounding syllables following it. Then look at the finger you point with,
from the knuckle to the tip. You have a longer finger bone between the knuckle and the next joint, followed by two
shorter ones. In other words, a greater one followed by two
lesser ones. It fits the dactylic foot. You may remember it as
a "finger foot."

In the poem, "If It Could Speak," the predominant foot is the iambic and the predominant length is three feet, so the poem is predominantly iambic trimeter. There are some variations mixed in, and among these are several anapestic feet and three trochaic feet in the last line of the ninth stanza, making that line trochaic trimeter.

If It Could Speak

If the can | non ball | could speak,  
What would | the projec | tile say?
Did it | from bar | rel streak
With puff | of smoke | in fray?

Did it fall | on field | of strife,
This hur | ling mis | sile round,
There take | a sol | dier's life,
There lay | him low | to ground?

Did a sol | dier before
See the bar | rel bel | ching fire?
And from | its muz | zle bore
Fear | the com | ing flier?

Did it gouge | nearby,
With a thud | ding sound?
And dust | and dirt | there fly,
As it plowed | into | the ground?

Lo, whe | ther it whirred
Across | the field | of war,
Or whe | ther it hurl'd, | unheard...
Amid | the boom | and roar...

Or whe | ther it sim | ply dropped
Upon | the field, | unshot...
All this | is here | unknown
And by | the sphere, | unshown...

But loo | king at | this ball
We this | can sure | ly muse:
At Get | tysburg | did fall
A wea | pon there | to use...

And while | I do | not know
Whether | it flew | and fought,
Or fell | by friend | or foe,
I know | for what | 'twas wrought...

Alas, | for threat | of force,
The ball | was man | ufactured...
Or for dread | recourse,
Even | people | fractured!

A bet | ter use | of metal
Would be, | a bridge | to span,
Than diff | 'rent sides, | to settle,
The dis | cord, divi | ding man.

A Sonnet on a Tear
in iambic pentameter

Not all | the dar | kened clouds | with fal | ling rain,
And wa
| ter shed | from moun | tainside | and hill;
Not all
| the spread | ing floods | of low | land plain,
And falls
| that plunge | off cliffs | and down | ward spill...

Not all | the ben |ding brooks, | the sun | ny streams,
And rest
| less ri | vers run | ning out | to sea;
Nor melt
| ing win | try snow | in war | ming beams
And wa
| ter froze | in ice | bergs floa | ting free...

Not all | of these, | and seas | and o | ceans full,
If poured
| into | the hot | and fie | ry pit...
Not all
| these wa | ters drawn | by na | ture's pull,
Could drown
| e'en one | infer | nal flame | of it!

To douse | the hope | less place | that hell | is in,
Needs but
| a tear |of sor | row wept | for sin


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Site Last Updated on 04/02/12