Meter: the recurrence of regular beats in a poetic line
Foot: a combination of two or three stressed and/or unstressed syllables. (1) IAMBIC (the noun is "iamb"): an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, a pattern which comes closest to approximating the natural rhythm of speech. Note line 23 from Shelley's "Stanzas Written in Dejection, Near Naples":
• To remember the structure of an iamb: paRADE, baLOON.
(2) TROCHAIC (the noun is "trochee"): a stressed followed by an unstressed syllable, as in the first line of Blake's "Introduction" to Songs of Innocence:
• To remember the structure of a trochee: CHILDish, PEAcock, SOda
(3) ANAPESTIC (the noun is "anapest"): two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable, as in the opening to Byron's "The Destruction of Sennacherib":
• To remember the structure of an anapest: interVENE, contraDICT.
(4) DACTYLIC (the noun is "dactyl"): a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables, as in Thomas Hardy's "The Voice":
• To remember the structure of an anapest: CELebrate, ENtropy, MAniac
(5) SPONDAIC (the noun is “spondee”): two stressed syllables, used to avoid monotony in poetry, as in Tennyson’s “Break, Break, Break”: Break, break, break, O cold, gray stone
• To remember the structure of a spondee: MAN-MADE.
Meter also refers to the number of feet in a line: monometer-1; dimeter-2; trimeter-3; tetrameter-4; pentameter-5; hexameter-6; heptameter-7; octameter-8
Scansion is the determination of the metrical feet and the number of metrical feet per line of poetry.
To scan a line is to determine its metrical pattern. Perhaps the best way to begin scanning a line is to mark the natural stresses on the polysyllabic words. Take Shelley's line:
Then mark the monosyllabic nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs that are normally stressed: Then fill in the rest: Then divide the line into feet: Then note the sequence: The line consists of four iambs; therefore, we identify the line as iambic tetrameter.
Number of lines Type of Stanza
8 octet (octave)
9 x-lined stanza
Heroic Line: Iambic pentameter
Alexandrine: Iambic hexameter
Ballad Line: line with four feet followed by a line with three feet
Practice identifying the meter of the following examples:
1. Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth
2. Tell me not in mournful numbers
3. For the moon, never beams, without bringing me dreams
4. This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks.
5. I dare
6. Dreaming of
7. I hear the sound
of birds aflight.
The world still sleeps
though it grows light.
8. Something tells me
not to seek her
though the darkness
has not fallen.
9. Halloween is nearing.