Saturday, 12 December 2009

A Bit About Meter

by Eric

Ever wonder why some rhyming poems just seem to be forced, or the flow starts out well and then goes bad?

Remember: It's the meter that matters.

I think it's helpful to begin by talking about music meter.

In standard 4/4 music, we have four beats per measure.

Say the following out loud:

one two three four / one two three four

Often, the first beat will be accentuated:

ONE two three four / ONE two three four

Sometimes, other beats will be accentuated:

one TWO three four / one TWO three four
one two THREE four / one two THREE four

It doesn't matter which beats are accentuated, so long as it is consistent thruout.

Now let's extrapolate this to poetry:

The boy woke up at eight o'clock
He found his shoes but not his socks

There are 8 syllables in each line, corresponding to the eight musical beats I just discussed.

the BOY woke up / at EIGHT o'clock
one TWO three four / one TWO three four

he FOUND his shoes / but NOT his socks
one TWO three four / one TWO three four

This gets slightly more complicated for longer lines:

T'was the night before Christmas and all through the house.
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse

In this case, there are 12 syllables or (beats) in each line: It is easiest to use + for accentuated syllables and - for non-accentuated syllables.

t'was the NIGHT be-fore CHRIST-mas and ALL through the HOUSE,
not a CREA-ture was STIR-ring, not E-ven a MOUSE

Notice how the + and - line up perfectly in these two lines.

Try tapping the beats (syllables) on a desk and you'll quickly notice a rhythm developing.

Notice how every third beat is accentuated. That is very similar to a waltz in music: 3/4 time.

Once you get the idea of meter, you can easily learn about iambic pentameter and other rhyming metered forms.

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