Poems, unlike most prose, depend on having an internal beat. Use accented syllables, silence, line breaks, meter, and traditional and original rhythmic patterns to get your audience's heads nodding.Accented SyllablesMiss Lucy had a baby.His name was tiny Tim.She put him in the bathtubto see if he could swim.He ate up all the water,he drank up all the soap.He tried to eat the bathtub, but itwouldn't go down his throat.
Either way, you get rhythm. Notice this. People have been into it for a long, long time. Now that rappers are too, it’s cool for you to hop on the bandwagon.
That night your great guns, unawares,
Shook all our coffins as we lay…
Repeated Words and LinesMiss Lucy called the doctor,Miss Lucy called the nurse.Miss Lucy called the lady with the alligator purse.The second way to control rhythm is through repetition. You can repeat a sound, a word, a phrase, a line, or more. You can create what’s called a refrain, like a short song chorus. This builds rhythm into the structure of a poem. Also, you can begin to repeat something – reference a previous line – but add a twist.
Horses, black horses:
Midnight, Five Minutes to Midnight.
Rider up, the sparks from their hooves like stars, like spiked stars.
This is a metaphor for failure,
This is the Rest of It, the beautiful horse, black horse.
Midnight. Dark horse, dark rider.
--from "Littlefoot, 14" by Charles Wright
Caesura (Pauses) and Enjambment (Flow)
Commas, periods, dashes and natural pauses are a part of rhythm. (Note the effect of them in the Wright poem excerpt above.)
If the pause comes at the end of a line, it’s called an “end stop.” Too many end stops makes a poem feel sing-song and repetitive; it makes a rhyme scheme too obvious. Instead, use "enjambment": have the end of the line have no natural pause. This makes what are called “run on lines,” with the ends of phrases or sentences coming anywhere but the end of the actual lines.Here is an example ofthe use of enjambment acrossline breaks.The use of run-on lines, or enjambment, when the lines still end with rhymes, is considered skillful. Another way to say this is that you should make your pauses come at the end of a sense unit, not a metrical unit. But still rhyme at least sometimes....
I like your
hat. What store
green ones? For
I so adore
it. I want more
Rhythm + Rhyme = Meter
There are rhythm and rhyme patterns people follow. A few might be called important, like the traditional sonnet (three different ten syllable a-b-a-b sets, then a rhyming couplet), and iambic bam-de-bam pentameter (ten syllable lines that hit every other syllable).
More important is that you are consistent within whatever poem you have. Don’t set up a pattern, then break it. Your poem must make mathematical sense: either it’s random (“free verse”) or it’s a conscious pattern.
Tyger, Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies,
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare sieze the fire?
And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger, Tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
--William Blake, 1794
Having used every subterfuge
To shake you, lies, fatigue, or even that of passion,
Now I see no way but a clean break.
I add that I am willing to bear the guilt.
You nod assent. Autumn turns windy, huge,
A clear vase of dry leaves vibrating on and on.
We sit, watching. When I next speak
Love buries itself in me, up to the hilt.
--James Merrill (1926-1995)
From The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Let us go then, you and I
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
With insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
…In the room the women come and go
talking of Michelangelo.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers
“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
that perches in the soul—
and sings the tune without the words—
and never stops—at all—
And sweetest—in the Gale is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—
I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.
--Emily Dickenson (1830-1886)
From Paid in Full
Thinkin’ of a master plan
‘ Cause ain't nuthin’ but sweat inside my hand
So I dig into my pocket, all my money’s spent
So I dig deeper, but still comin’ up with lint
So I start my mission -- leave my residence
Thinkin’ how could I get some dead presidents
I need money. I used to be a stick-up kid
So I think of all the devious things I did
I used to roll up: “This is a hold up, ain't nuthin funny
Stop smiling, be still, don't nuthin’ move but the money.”
But now I learned to earn, ‘cause I'm righteous
I feel great, so maybe I might just
Search for a 9 to 5. If I strive
Then maybe I'll stay alive
So I walk up the street whistlin’ this
Feelin’ out of place, ‘cause man, do I miss
A pen and a paper, a stereo, a tape of
Me and Eric B, and a nice big plate of
Fish, which is my favorite dish
But without no money it's still a wish
Cos I don't like to dream about gettin paid
So I dig into the books of the rhymes that I made
To now test to see if I got pull
Hit the studio, ‘cause I'm paid in full.
Speech to the Young
Say to them,
say to the down-keepers,
“ Even if you are not ready for day
it cannot always be night.”
You will be right.
For that is the hard home-run.
Live not for battles won.
Live not for the-end-of-the-song.
Live in the along.
--Gwendolyn Brooks (b.1917)
We were very tired, we were very merry--
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry
And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear
From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere
And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.
--Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)
Types of Meter
Let’s get technical. Here are 4 types of meter and their building blocks.
1. Syllabic meter: the amount of syllables per line is crucial.
2. Accentual-syllabic: the amount of syllables per line and where the
accents fall is crucial.
3. Accentual meter: only the amount of accented syllables per
line is crucial.
4. Free verse (or meter): any invented pattern, or random. (whatever, dude)
Now the Real Rhyme Science (the truly technical details):
Syllablic verse, therefore, is pretty simple. Haiku are syllabic: 5-7-5 syllables. French poems are often, say, ten syllables per line, with no real rhythm.
Accentual-syllabic verse is based on:
a. units of rhythm
b. amount of those units per line
There are labels for all of these that get pretty darn scientific. Units of rhythm:
Iamb: one unaccented followed by an accented syllable (away)
Anapest: two unaccented syllables then an accented syllable (intervene)
Trochee: an accented followed by an unaccented syllable (only)
Dactyl: an accented syllable then two unaccented syllables (happily)
Spondee: two accented syllables (cars crash!)
“foot”: one of the above; a 2- or 3-syllable unit of rhythm
momometer: one foot per line
dimeter: two feet per line
trimeter: three feet per line
tetrameter: four feet per line
pentameter: five feet per line
hexameter: six feet per line
heptameter: seven feet (line usually breaks up after this long)
Therefore, iambic pentameter is lines of five pairs of one unaccented followed by one accented syllable: “the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.”
Quiz-type questions: What is anapestic trimeter? Dactylic tetrameter?
Accentual or “Stress” Meter: this is what rap and other music lyrics usually use, as well as lots of poetry. As long as you hit beats at the right times, you can have any number of unaccented syllables between them.
To grasp accentual verse, or stress meter, or whatever you want to call it, you have to understand primary (totally stressed) and secondary (kind of stressed) accents. For the following, the primary stresses are in bold italics and the secondary are in just italics.
Sing a song of sixpence, pocketful of rye
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie
Notice: the top line is eleven syllables, the bottom line ten, but each have four big beats, or primary stresses. The secondary stresses don’t count.
Peas porridge hot,
Peas porridge cold,
Peas porridge in the pot
Nine… days… old.
The above lines accent three syllables each, even though they range from 3-6 syllables.
Traditional ballads alternate lines of four and three accents.
The king sits in Dumferling toune
Drinking the blood-red wine
Oh where will I find a skillful sailor
To sail this ship of mine?”
Rhyme Scheme (Meter) Shorthand, e.g. a-b-b-a
Letters (beginning with a) are used as shorthand to describe rhyme schemes. An a-a-a poem is a three line poem with every line ending with the same sound: “The cat/sat/on the hat.” An a-b-a-b stanza alternates rhymes: “the boys/were nice/to Joy’s/head lice.” An a-b-b-a rhyme: ‘the boys/were nice/to the head lice/of Joy’s.” Introducing letters like c and d means lines end with new sounds.
A Few Stanza forms:
Traditional sonnet: 14 lines, iambic pentameter, ababcdcdefefgg
Italian sonnet: 14 lines, iambic pentameter; abbaabbacdcdcd.
Villanelle: 5 aba stanzas, and a final 4-line (usually abaa) stanza, all on 2 rhymes. The first and third lines alternate as the last lines of the other stanzas; and they are both the last lines of the final quatrain.
Rondeau: 15 lines, usually 8 syllables each; opening words of poem become the refrain, rhymed aabba, aabc, aabbac.
Sestina: 6 stanzas, 6 lines each, then 3 lines. Same six words rotate oddly as line enders.Your Assignment:
Rhythm and Meter Elements Poem Name: ____________________________
Demonstrate your understanding of key rhythm and meter elements by writing a 3-stanza, 12-line poem and labeling it with rhyme scheme shorthand. It needs to include 4 things:
(1) 4 lines (over 8 syllables each) that end with rhyming with enjambment. This means that the lines END with a rhyme, but NOT a natural pause such as a comma or period.
Every summer, my family and I take
a trip to New Hampshire. The lake
we go to is beautiful. My dad loves to bake
cookies there, while my mom will make
us chop lumber…
(2) 4 lines of iambic pentameter. In other words, each line needs to be 10 syllables. Ideally, the accents should fall every other syllable (that’s the iambic part), but don’t worry too much about that. The lines need not rhyme in this stanza.
(3) 4 or more lines in which repetition (of words, lines or syntax; you can repeat stuff from the first 8 lines) is used to create a rhythm. Don’t overthink this, just do it.
(4) Then don’t forget: in the left or right margin of the poem, label the rhyme scheme. Your four first lines should be A-A-A-A. Your next 4 might be B-C-D-E. Etc. If a line ends with a rhyme, it’s going to share a letter with another.