Sunday, January 1, 2012


PROSODY signifies the systematic study of versification, that is, of the principles and practice of meter, rhyme, and stanza forms.

METER:  In all sustained spoken English we feel a rhythm, i.e., a recognizable though variable pattern in the beat of the stresses in the stream of sound.  If this rhythm of stresses is structured into a recurrence of regular—approximately equivalent—units, we call it meter.  Compositions written in meter are known as VERSE.

FOOT is the combination of a strong stress and the associated weak stress or stresses which make up the recurrent metric unit of a line.  The relatively stronger-stressed syllable is called “stressed”; the relatively weaker stressed syllables are called “light”, or “slack”, or simply “unstressed.”

The four standard feet distinguished in English are:

IAMBIC /_ '/  e.g.: How vainly men themselves amaze. (Marvell)

ANAPESTIC /_ _ '/ e.g.: I am out of humanity’s reach. (Cowper)

TROCHAIC /' _/  e.g.: There they are, my fifty men and women. (Browning)

DACTYLIC /' _ _/ e.g.: Eve, with her basket was / Deep in the bells and grass. (Hodgson)

Two other feet, often distinguished, occur only as occasional variants from standard feet:

SPONDAIC /' '/ e.g.: Good strong thick stupefying incense smoke. (Browning)

PYRRHIC /_ _/ e.g.: My way is to begin with the beginning. (Byron)

A METRIC LINE is named according to the number of feet composing it:

MONOMETER: one foot

DIMETER: two feet

TRIMETER: three feet

TETRAMETER: four feet

PENTAMETER: five feet

HEXAMETER: six feet (an ALEXANDRINE is a line of six iambic feet)

HEPTAMETER: seven feet

OCTAMETER: eight feet

TO SCAN a passage of verse is to go through it line by line, analyzing the component feet, and also indicating where any major pauses fall within a line.  The act of scanning a poem is called SCANSION.

When a line ends in an unstressed syllable is said to have a FEMININE ENDING.

When a line ends in a stressed syllable is said to have a MASCULINE ENDING.

RHYME is the repetition of the same or similar sounds often occurring at set intervals and most obviously appearing at the end of a line.

END RHYME, by far the most frequent type, occurs at the end of a line.

INTERNAL RHYME occurs within a line.

DOUBLE RHYME is a rhyme involving two syllables.

TRIPLE RHYME is a rhyme involving three syllables.

PERFECT RHYME or FULL RHYME or TRUE RHYME occurs when the correspondence of the rhymed sounds is exact.

EYE RHYME occurs when words are spelled the same and look alike but sound differently.

IMPERFECT RHYME or PARTIAL, NEAR, HALF or SLANT RHYME occurs when there are changes within the vowel sounds of words meant to rhyme.

RHYME ROYAL is a seven-line, iambic pentameter stanza rhyming ababbcc.

OTTAVA RIMA has eight lines; it rhymes abababcc.

BLANK VERSE consists of lines of iambic pentameter which are unrhymed—hence the term “blank.”  Of all English verse forms it is closest to the natural rhythms of English speech; as a result it has been more frequently and variously used than any other type of verse. 

FREE VERSE, also known as OPEN FORM verse, or by the French term VERS LIBRE, is printed in short lines instead of with the continuity of prose, and has more controlled rhythmic pattern than ordinary prose; but it lacks the regular syllabic stress pattern, organized into recurrent feet, of traditional meter.  Most free verse also has irregular line lengths and lacks rhyme. 

A LINE OF VERSE is a single line of words in a poem.

A STANZA (Italian for “stopping place”) is a grouping of the lines in a poem, set off by a space in the printed text.

IN MEMORIAM STANZAS are iambic tetrameter quatrains with a rhyming scheme abba.

A QUATRAIN, or four-line stanza, is the most common in English versification, and is employed with various meters and rhyme schemes.

A COUPLET is a pair of rhymed lines.

A TERCET or TRIPLET is a stanza of three lines, usually with a single rhyme.

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