Identifying Meter

Identifying Meter

Identifying meter. The only poetic meter I knew in high school bordered on rough iambic. Mrs. T., my English Literature teacher in ninth and tenth grades, focused often on Shakespeare. My class of twenty-five drowned in Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, and Sonnet 116. I doubt we appreciated them but prayed Mrs. T. would deliver enough knowledge to pass the tests. For sure, we heard the words iambic pentameter.

For Junior and Senior years, my class received the blessing of Mrs. P., the down-to-earth English Lit teacher who introduced us to grammar with a capital “G.” Her curriculum balanced a love of literature and basic writing skills. Instead of read-then-test, we began to write essays about life and analyze poems such as “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost.

While I failed to fully grasp the concept of meter in high school, I did recognize poetry had rhythm, and I loved, loved, loved to read it with expression. I wrote many poems and judged them by how they sounded instead of finding a specific rhythm pattern. My knowledge has continued to grow. Gin Creek Poets and White County Creative Writers, two groups I joined in my eighth year of retirement, have helped improve my poetry and other writing skills.

Reading books of poetry written by others and studying online to extend my knowledge of meter, I decided to look back to my high school analysis of “The Road Not Taken” and add another Frost poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” I planned to compare the poems to determine if both have the same meter. In the analysis, #1 is used to identify “The Road…” and #2 is used to identify “Stopping by…”.

Here are some of my findings:

In #1 the lines of the poem do not have the same number of syllables per line, but in #2 each line has exactly eight syllables. Remember: Stressed and unstressed syllables in specific patterns give the poem its meter or rhythm.
An iambic foot consists of one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable. #1 classifies as iambic tetrameter because most of the lines have an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, or a total of four metrical feet. Some lines are catalectic or have extra syllables added. #2 classifies as an iambic tetrameter, having four feet of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable in every line.

#1 has some lines containing uneven rhythm and some with even rhythm, and #2 has iambic rhythm in all lines which gives the “de-DUMM” sound throughout. I am satisfied both poems are iambic tetrameter. Frost may have written #1 with a loose style on purpose or by accident, but #2 is more formal in style with intent to be iambic tetrameter.

Stay tuned to The Write Way for more information about poetry and identifying meter. We will grow together.

Donna Nelson
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