The term prosody refers to the study of versification.
Most prosody begins with an analysis of metre. Metre (or meter)
is derived from the Greek word for "measure." The metre is the
pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in verse. While there
may be some variation or substitution, the number of syllables, and the number
of stressed/unstressed syllables remains relatively consistent from line to
The most common metres include:
- anapestic - From the Greek word meaning "beaten
back," the anapestic meter consists of two unstressed syllables
followed by a stressed syllable. (The opposite of dactylic) It
is used to create the illusion of running, galloping, swiftness or action.
Take for example, Poe's "Annabel Lee": " For the
moon | never beams,| without bring|ing me dreams|\"
- dactylic - From the Greek word for "finger,"
the dactylic meter consists of an stressed syllable followed by two
unstressed syllables. The dactyl produces a falling rhythm, which is
not natural to English. Therefore, it is relatively rare, used mostly
as a counterpoint to another metric form. This example is from Alfred
Lord Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade":
"Cannon to | right of them,|\Cannon to | left of them,|\ Cannon in |
front of them|\..."
- iambic - A two syllable metre, composed of an unstressed
syllable followed by a stressed syllable. The word "defeat"
is a prime example of iambic metre. The iambic metre is thought to be
closest to the normal human speech pattern it is also the commonest form of
metre because it fits the English language so well. Thought to have
been originated by Archilochus in the 7th century BC.
- paeonic - A metric foot of one stressed and three
unstressed syllables. Common in Classic Greek poetry, it is rare in
- spondaic (spondee) - The spondee is a foot composed of
two stressed syllables. Words like daylight and carpool are spondaic.
- trochaic (throchee) -A trochee is a foot composed of one
stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. The words party
and bummer are trochees.
- pyrrhic - Another rare foot (some critics even deny this
is a foot), the pyrrhic foot is composed of two unstressed syllables
metrical unit of a line is called a foot. A foot consists
of one stressed syllable and one or more unstressed syllables. Each type
of foot is denoted by a specific term (line breaks are indicated by
- monometer - indicates one foot per line. An example
can be seen in Robert Herrick's "Upon His Departure Hence":
Thus I / Pass by / and die. / As one / Unknown / And gone; /I'm made / A
shade, / And laid / I'th grave, / There have /My cave. /
Where tell / I dwell / Farewell.
- dimeter indicates a line that contains two feet.
The third and fourth lines of limericks are dimeter. For instance:
"Her position to Titian / suggested coition/"
- trimeter - trimetric works have three feet per line.
This example is from Browning's "home Thoughts From Abroad" (feet
are separated by | ): "Oh to | be in | England |/ Now that |
April's | there./
- tetrameter - A line with four feet. Frequently seen
in English verse as iambic or trochaic.
This example is from Milton's "L'Allegro":
"Haste | thee nymph, | and bring | with thee\ Jest | and
- pentameter - The five foot line is the basic line in most
poetry, especially English verse, blank verse, and the heroic couplet.
It's development is credited to Chaucer. The following example is from
Robert Loews's "Mr. Edwards and the Spider": "I saw |
the spi|ders mar|ching through | the air,/ Swimming | from tree | to
tree| that mil|dewed day. . .\"
- hexameter - the six foot line is very rigidly
constructed, being built from four dactyls or spondees
followed by a dactyl and then a spondee or a trochee.
This example is from Yeats' "The Lake Isle of of Innisfree":
I will a|rise and | go now, | and go | to Inn|isfree, \ And a small |
cabin | build there, | of clay | and wat|tels made ...|\"
- heptameter - the septenarius or seven foot line.
This example is from Kipling's "Tommy": "I went |
into | a pub|lic-'ouse | to get | a pint | o' beer,|\ The publican | 'e up |
an' sez, | "We serve | no red|-coats here."|\
- octameter - A rare eight footed line. The
most common example is Poe's "The Raven."
Meter is usually described as either the dominant foot (which foot is used
most often to the strongest effect in a work), Or the dominant number of
feet per line. Generally, though, critics combine the dominant foot and
number of feet to describe meter. That is were common terms like iambic
pentameter and trochaic tetrameter gain their critical