How to Identify Meter in Poetry

Rhythm and meter are two of the elements that establish the way a poem looks and sounds. Rhythm and meter are often confused but are actually inseparable in a poem. Meter is the measure of a line and rhythm is created in part by the meter. Identifying rhythm and meter in a poem is simple when you understand the way syllables and stress indications are used to create them.

Learn the meaning of meter. Meter is a recurring pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry. These patterns are placed in sets throughout the poetry and each set is called a foot. A set of two syllables beginning with an unstressed syllable and ending with a stressed is called iamb or iambic; a spondee is two stressed syllables. Anapest is a three syllable foot consisting of unstressed, unstressed, stressed syllables. There are many different feet. Learning their names and the stress patterns is necessary for identifying meter in poetry.

Read any poem and determine the line length. There are many line lengths, including mono meter, dimeter, trimeter, pentameter and octameter. These line lengths are determined by the number of feet per line. A poem of five feet is pentameter; a poem with eight feet is octameter; trimeter is a poem with three feet.

Combine type of foot pattern with the number of feet to determine a poem's metrical pattern. An iamb foot pattern combined with a line of five feet would be an iambic pentameter. A poem with a trochee foot (stressed, unstressed pattern) and a trimeter (three feet) combined would give the poem a trochaic tetrameter pattern.

  • Purchase a book on how to write or read poetry, check one out from the library or find the same information online.
About the Author

About Carl Hose Carl's work has appeared in the zombie anthology Cold Storage, which he co-edited. His work has also appeared in Champagne Shivers 2007, DeathGrip: It Came from the Cinema, DeathGrip: Exit Laughing, the horror-romance anthology Loving the Undead, the erotic paranormal ghost anthology Beyond Desire, and several issues of Lighthouse Digest. Carl's nonfiction has appeared in The Blue Review and Writer's Journal. Carl lives in Georgia with his lovely fiancee Marcella and their two boys (with a baby on the way). You can visit his web site, Writer’s Inkwell, at