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Poetry: Rhythm and Meter

Rhythm is everywhere: we hear it in the hum of vehicles and appliances. We feel it when we walk or run. We see it in the very rising and setting of the sun. Even our hearts beat to a rhythm. Rhythm is built into the way we experience and perceive the world.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary offers several definitions for rhythm:

  • an ordered recurrent alternation of strong and weak elements in the flow of sound and silence in speech
  • the aspect of music comprising all the elements (such as accent, meter, and tempo) that relate to forward movement
  • movement, fluctuation, or variation marked by the regular recurrence or natural flow of related elements 

Poetry encapsulates all of these definitions of rhythm. But what about meter? 

The words rhythm and meter are often used interchangeably, but their meanings are slightly different in the context of poetry. Perinne’s Sound and Sense describes this difference clearly and simply: “rhythm is the flow of sound; meter is the patterns in the sounds.”


In poetry, meter is determined by accented (stressed) and unaccented (unstressed) syllables. Silence (or pauses) also contributes to a poem’s meter. Scansion is the practice of marking up a poem to reveal its meter. Here is a traditional method of marking up a poem, using Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee” as an example:scansion annabel leeThe character that looks like the bottom half of a circle is called a breve. The breve indicates unstressed syllables, and the slash indicates stressed syllables. You won’t find the breve on your keyboard, but it is available in Microsoft Word by using the Insert –> Symbol function.

However, working with breves and slashes on a computer in this manner is tedious and time consuming. Fortunately, there are some other methods available to us.

Some dictionaries include pronunciation guides, which indicate stressed and unstressed syllables. Dictionaries often use quotation marks for stressed syllables and apostrophes for unstressed syllables: PO”e’try’. This isn’t easy on the eyes. Another option, which is much clearer, is to use all caps for stressed syllables and all lowercase letters for unstressed syllables: POetry; and we can add hyphens to further denote each syllable: PO-e-try. Ah, that’s more like it: easy to read and easy to type.

Metrical Units

We now know how to show meter with scansion, but we also need to know how to talk about it. Here is some special terminology that helps us communicate when discussing meter:

A metrical foot is a unit of metrical measurement that includes stressed and unstressed syllables. Here are a few types of metrical feet:

  • Anapest: Two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable (da-da-DA). Example: un-der-STAND.
  • Dactyl: One stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables (DA-da-da). Example: PROM-i-nent.
  • Iamb: One unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable (da-DA). Example: be-LONG
  • Trochee: One stressed syllable followed by one unstressed syllable (DA-da). Example: O-ver

We also use special terminology to refer to the number of feet in a line of poetry:

  • 1 foot: monometer
  • 2 feet: dimeter
  • 3 feet: trimeter
  • 4 feet: tetrameter
  • 5 feet: pentameter

Let’s return to the first line of “Annabel Lee” and show its metrical feet:

it was MA|ny and MA|ny a YEAR | aGO ||

This line consists of three anapests followed by an iamb, or a combination of anapestic and iambic feet.

But what about the number of feet? How do those factor into the language we use to talk about meter? Let’s look at a line from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18” (please note that I have changed the capitalization to accommodate scansion):

shall I | comPARE | thee TO | a SUM | mer’s DAY? ||
Thou ART | more LOVE | ly AND | more TEM | perATE:

Each line consists of five metrical feet, so this poem is written in pentameter. Each line also includes five iambs, one stressed syllable followed by one unstressed syllable. These lines are therefore written in iambic pentameter.

Silence (Rests, Pauses)

In poetry, line breaks, stanza breaks, white space, and punctuation provide cues for pauses. We’ll pause a little longer between stanzas than we will between lines. We’ll hold on a period longer than on a comma. Sometimes breaks and punctuation are part of the aesthetic design of a poem, but their placement will almost always affect a poem’s meter and rhythm, because they instruct the reader to pause.

End-stopped lines contain a complete grammatical phrase (or clause) or terminate with a period, closing parenthesis, colon, or semicolon. Enjambment occurs when a line break occurs in the middle of a complete phrase or clause or when terminal punctuation marks are absent. The first two lines of “Annabel Lee” (above) are enjambed; the first two lines of “Sonnet 18” (above) are end-stopped.

Let’s Get Back to Rhythm

Rhythm is best understood as the flow of sound, whereas meter is a pattern of sound. If we mistakenly equate rhythm and meter, we might assume that free verse poetry lacks rhythm because it doesn’t use metrical patterns. Let’s look at the first stanza of “Spelling” by Margaret Atwood, which is written in free verse:

My daughter plays on the floor
with plastic letters,
red, blue & hard yellow,
learning how to spell,
how to make spells.

There’s no discernible pattern in the meter, which is why the poem is called free verse. Yet the poem still has a flow, a rhythm. If the rhythm isn’t coming from the poem’s meter, where is it coming from?

Even though there aren’t repeated patterns, the accented and unaccented syllables still inform the rhythm. But so do the pauses. Consider the pause after “spelling” and before “how to make spells.” This pause influences the musicality of the poem. But the poem uses some other tricks to create rhythm. Look at the rhyme of “yellow” and “spell” (not a perfect rhyme, but a rhyme nonetheless). And look at how it echoes into the next two lines with “spelling” and the repetition of “spell” in the final line. There’s a pattern of sound there, which creates rhythm.

As we can see, meter is not the only contributing factor to rhythm.

How Rhythmical is Your Poetry?

If meter is a pattern of sounds and rhythm is the flow of sound, which of these elements is more important in poetry? When you write poetry, do you check for meter or rhythm? Do you prefer metrical poems or are you drawn to poems with vivid rhythm? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing poetry!

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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Galaxy Pizza and Meteor Pie Goes Cyber #FED_ebooks #Author #Writer #ebooks

First Edition Design Publishing

Galaxy Pizza and Meteor Pie Goes Cyber

Sarasota, FL — FEDP ( First Edition Design Publishing ) has released Galaxy Pizza and Meteor Pie by Darren Sardelli, ISBN 9781622870196, in eBook format.  FEDP submitted the eBook to over 100,000 distribution points including on-line retailers, libraries, schools, colleges and universities in more than 100 countries.

If you’re a fan of funny and witty poetry, Darren Sardelli’s book,  Galaxy Pizza and Meteor Pie (And Other School Poems That Are Out of This World!), will be a wonderful edition to your poetry collection. His humorous topics, fun rhyme schemes, and surprise endings show students the cool, funny, and whimsical side of poetry.

Welcome to Darren Sardelli’s world of Laugh-Out-Loud Poetry! In Galaxy Pizza and Meteor Pie, you’ll run into a teacher FirstEditionDesigneBooks.comwho mixes up her words, one who gives detention to water fountains and bus tires, and one who forgets how to act around students. You’ll meet unusual lunch ladies who serve Candy Cane Craters, Milky Way Shakes, and fresh Corn on the Comet. There’s also a dog that enjoys doing chores, a parent who gets out of hand at a parent-teacher conference, and a principal who lets kids take over the school on Opposite Day. Pam Catapano brings each poem to life with her colorful characters, brilliant imagination, and delightful illustrations. Darren and Pam have teamed up to make reading fun and enjoyable for even the most reluctant of readers. They are proud of their work and are happy to share Galaxy Pizza and Meteor Pie with the universe.

Award winning poet, motivational speaker, and children’s book author, Darren Sardelli, makes poetry fun and exciting for everyone. His poems are featured in 13 children’s books in the U.S. and England, and 8 textbooks in The Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Israel, and India. He chooses topics that children relate to and understands how to get them excited about poetry. Since 2004, Darren has visited more than 350 elementary and middle schools (in 7 states). His program, The Funniest Poet in School, has become a Top 10 School Program on Long Island, NY. Besides doing programs at schools, Darren has an amazing poetry program for libraries and camps. He tends to become a crowd favorite wherever he goes.

Darren’s recent awards include: Teachers’ Choice Awards (TCA) 2008, 1st Place in the 2008 TJMF Poetry For Children Contest, USABookNews.com Finalist 2008, 2nd Place 2007 TJMF Pet Poetry Contest,  National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) 2006, 1st Place for Children’s Book Writing at the 2005 Santa Barbara’s Writers Conference (one of the top ten writer’s conferences in the world), iParenting Media Awards 2005.

For more information on Darren Sardelli’s poetry, books, and performances, please visit www.laughalotpoetry.com

First Edition Design PublishingFirst Edition Design Publishing, based in Sarasota, Florida, USA leads the industry in eBook distribution.They convert, format and submit eBooks to Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Google, Kobo, Diesel, 3M, Ingram, Baker and Taylor, Nielsen, EBSCO, scores of additional on-line retailers and libraries, schools, colleges and universities. The company also has a POD (Print On Demand) division, which creates printed books and makes them available worldwide through their distribution network. The Company is a licensed Apple Developer and a Microsoft Solution Provider.

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