|Great Buys on the Following Items
Kindle E-Readers Musical Instruments Men's Clothes Women's Clothes Handbags and Shoes
See Shakespeare Study Guides in Kindle Format
With Complete Annotated Texts
Table of Contents
Definition Types of Feet and Meter Examples of Metric Formats Catalexis
Acatalexis Common Meter Terms to Know
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2006, 2011
Revised in 2018
In verse and poetry, meter is a recurring pattern of stressed (accented, or long) and unstressed (unaccented, or short) syllables in lines of a set length. For example, suppose a line contains ten syllables (set length) in which the first syllable is unstressed, the second is stressed, the third is unstressed, the fourth is stressed, and so on until the line reaches the tenth syllable. The line would look like the following one (the opening line of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18) containing a pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables. The unstressed syllables are in blue and the stressed syllables in red.
foot containing an unstressed syllable followed
by a stressed syllable (as above) is called an iamb.
Because there are five feet in the line, all
iambic, the meter of the line is iambic
pentameter. The prefix pent- in pentameter
means five (Greek: penta, five).
Pent- is joined to words or word roots to
form new words indicating five. For example, the
Pentagon in Washington has five sides, the
Pentateuch of the Bible consists of five books,
and a pentathlon in athletic competition has
five events. Thus, poetry lines with five feet
are in pentameter.
The length of lines—and thus the meter—can also vary. Following are the types of meter and the line length:
Meter is determined by the type of foot and the number of feet in a line. Thus, a line with three iambic feet is known as iambic trimeter. A line with six dactylic feet is known as dactylic hexameter. .
Books for Teachers
Teaching Shakespeare With a Purpose: a Student-Centered Approach
Teaching Shakespeare: a Handbook for Teachers
Transforming the Teaching of Shakespeare With the Royal Shakespeare Company
Shakespeare: to Teach or not to Teach
The Macbeth Study Guide
Examples of Metric Formats
Following are additional examples of feet and meter combinations.
1.......... ...2........... .. 3........ .......4....... .......5Mixed Meter With Iambic Feet
From "Intimations of Immortality," by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
Great Buys on the Following
Items at Amazon.com
.... ....1................ .......2..................... .....3........... ...........4
TY ger..|..TY ger..|..BURN ning..|..BRIGHT
. ...1...............2......... ......3......... ...4
See Catalexis below for an explanation of why the fourth foot in each line has only one syllable.
lines from "The Tyger" (above) contain trochaic
feet—consisting of a stressed syllable followed
by an unstressed syllable. Notice, however, that
the final foot of each line is incomplete,
containing only a stressed syllable. An
incomplete foot at the end of a line is called catalexis.
Thus, bright and night are
called catalectic feet. The meter of
these lines is trochaic tetrameter—tetrameter
because they each contain three complete feet
and one incomplete foot, for a total of four
feet. A complete foot at the end of a line is
called acatalexis. The final feet in the
stanza under Mixed Meter With
Iambic Feet are all acatalectic.
Common meter is a metric format consisting of a four-line stanza with four iambic feet in the first and third lines and three iambic feet in the second and fourth lines. American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) used common meter in many of her poems. Following is an example:
Two swimmers wrestled on the sparHere is graphic illustration of the verse format of the poem.
Ballad: Poem that tells a
story, sometimes in common meter.
For an explanation of how
poetry differs from verse—and how they both differ from