This is an example of All Poetry's School of Poetry classes, this one is taught by Epistomoulus (Posted with his permission) There are other classes available for free there as well.


Welcome to the Gentle Introduction to Meter. The purpose of this class is to expose you to some common forms of meter, discuss how a particular meter affects the overall tone of a poem, show some examples, and let you experiment with the different forms.
My goal is to keep the lessons short and lively. No one signs up for a class like this hoping to be bored and given onerous homework. The idea here is to give you a grounding in meter, then have some fun with it to motivate you to explore on your own.
In the first three lessons you'll learn some basic terminology - the language of meter.
The remaining lessons will focus on some common metrical styles and give you an opportunity to write some short poems.
Each lesson has a short quiz and an assignment. To complete the assignment, you'll enter your answers to the quiz and your assignment into the Assignment box at the end of each lesson.
So - in this class you will:
  • Learn the language of meter
  • Demonstrate your understanding of meter
  • Read excellent examples of metrical poetry
  • Write and revise your own excellent metrical poetry


A syllable is a unit of spoken language consisting of one or more vowels alone, or vowels combined with one or more consonants. For our purposes here, we're going to be looking at little groups of letters that roughly approximate a single unit of spoken language.
It's easier to demonstrate than talk about.
  • Mud is a one-syllable word.
  • Mudflats is two syllables (Mud-flats).
  • Notice that "flats" has two consonants at the beginning, two at the end, even a vowel in the middle, but the whole thing is just one syllable. It's easy to break up compound words such as this one, since you can just divide between the two one-syllable words used to create it.
  • Muddy is two syllables, Mud-dy.

    You will most often divide syllables so that each begins with a consonant. If you have two consonants in a row, split them so that the first ends one syllable and the second begins the next syllable.
  • Oil, feel, seal, pearl, rail are all one-syllable words.
  • Yes, it might sound as if they have two syllables, you might even prounounce them as oy-yull, fee-yull, see-yull, per-rull, and ray-yull, but, in fact, two vowels together that combine to produce a single sound are considered one syllable (these are known as diphthongs, from the Greek, meaning "two sounds"). Contrast those diphthongs with words like pi-a-no, o-le-o, ra-di-o; these are all three syllable words, with single vowels acting as one syllable.
For the purposes of these lessons, as long as you break the word into the correct number of syllables, I won't be too picky about where you choose to break them up.

Stressed and Unstressed Syllables

In English, we put more emphasis on one syllable than another. For example, these words put the stress on the first syllable: popcorn, chicken, cable, monkey. These words put the stress on the second syllable: begin, repeat, incite, delight.
This class is all about arranging words so that the stressed syllables and unstressed syllables fall into a pattern that creates a steady rhythm.
Analysis of the pattern of stressed versus unstressed syllables in a poem is known asscansion.
We'll use two methods to illustrate scansion in these lessons. The first is to capitalize the stressed syllables while showing the unstressed syllables in lowercase letters.
their OLD famILiar CARols PLAY.
If we just want to show the stress pattern, we can use slash and x notation. Slash represents the stressed syllable (the ictus, from the Latin word for "struck"); x represents the unstressed syllable. We can write the scansion of the poem this way.
I heard the bells on Christmas day
their old familiar carols play
At times, a line of poetry will omit a syllable at the end of a line. I indicate a skipped syllable using an asterisk (*). Even though there is no syllable spoken, the reader will naturally pause for the length of the syllable rather than break the rhythm by crashing right on to the next line.
Sing to me a song of old, / x / x / x / *
Tales of dragons, ale, and gold. / x / x / x / *
x = unstressed
/ = stressed
* = omitted


Please enter your answers in the assignment box.
A ) Where are you from? Is English your primary language?
B ) Break the following words into syllables.
For example: monkeymon-key
For example: appendectomyap-pen-dec-to-my
For example: foliofo-li-o
  1. cookie
  2. bowling
  3. committee
  4. peeler
  5. jewelry
  6. flaunts
C ) Scan the stresses in the following words and phrases.
For example: I want to read the paper.x/x/x/x
For example: How many times have I told you to stop?/xx/xx/xx/
For example: Tofu turkey canapes/x/x/xx
For example: Deep-fried chicken thighs///xx
  1. I think that I shall never see
  2. Banana Cream Pie
  3. Nonfat milk
  4. Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry
  5. Splish-splash I was taking a bath
If this is giving you a little trouble, try taking a look at a little video I've posted called A No-stress Intro to Stress. There are three copies of the same video in different formats; one of them should work for you.


For the next week or so, pay attention to interesting words and phrases you hear, and break down their scansion, either on paper, in your poems, or just in your head.

No comments:

Post a Comment