How to Find the Meter of a Poem

What is Meter in a Poem

Meter is a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables within the lines of a poem. It is determined by the number of feet in a line and its structure. Foot/feet in poetic terms is a measuring unit; it is a single group of syllables in a poem. You need to identify the number and type of syllables and their stress patterns in order to identify the meter of a poem. The meter of a poem, in turn, will help you to identify the type or structure of a poem.

There are five main common feet in English. The meter of a poem is built according to these feet.

Iamb consists of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable [daDUM].

Trochee consists of one stressed syllable followed by one unstressed syllable [DUMda].

Spondee consists of two stressed syllables [DUMDUM].

Dactyl is a combination of three syllables: the first syllable is stressed, and the other two are unstressed [DUMdada].

Anapest is a combination of three syllables: the first two syllables are unstressed, and the last syllable is stressed [dadaDUM].

Poets use a repetition of these feet to build lines of verse. The meter can be classified into different types based on the number of feet in a poem.

  • Monometer have one feet.
  • Dimeters have two feet.
  • Trimeters have three feet.
  • Tetrameter has four feet.
  • Pentameters have five feet.

How to Find the Meter of a Poem - 2

How to Find the Meter of a Poem

1. Read the poem aloud so that you can hear the rhythm of the words. These rhythmic patterns of words will help you to identify the feet and meter. Pay special attention to individual syllables.

2. Break words into syllables to identify the syllabic pattern. You can use a dash to separate the syllables in a word (e.g. stu-dent). Remember that a word can have more than one syllable and a syllable contains at least one vowel.

3. Identify stressed and unstressed syllables. You can use the / symbol above stressed syllables and the X symbol above unstressed syllables. 

4. Identify the type of foot in a poem’s meter using the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line. (e.g., iamb, trochee, spondee, etc.) Poets usually use the same pattern throughout the poem.

5. Find out the number of feet in each line. The type and number of feet will help you to find the meter of a poem.How to Find the Meter of a Poem

Example:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou are lovely and more temperate:

  x       /     x        /     x       /   x      /     x     /

Shall I | com-pare | thee to | a sum | mer’s day?     

  x        /       x        /     x       /      x      /     x     /

Thou art | more love-| ly and | more tem-|per-ate:

These lines are composed of iambic feet since unstressed syllables are followed by stressed ones. Since this foot repeats five times in a line, we can deduce that this poem is written in iambic pentameter.

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.


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