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How to Measure the Rhyme and Meter in a Poem


Poetry is one of the most popular forms of writing in all cultures. One of the reasons for the continued popularity of poetry is that there are a wide variety of poetic styles. Poems can be written in a strict form following a specific pattern or beat and rhyme scheme. Poetry can also be written without following any rules, known as free verse. Meter is the measurement of the pattern of sounds in a line of a poem. Measuring rhyme in a poem means finding the patterns of words that sound alike in each line or verse of the poem.

Measuring Rhyme

Identify words that rhyme by scanning each line of the poem. Read the poem silently first and mark any words that rhyme. Reread the poem aloud to catch any rhyming words you may have missed. Winthrop University notes that letters are used to indicate or mark which lines in a poem rhyme. For each word that rhymes, such as "bat", "hat" and "cat", label it with an "a". The next group of letters should marked with a "b" ("dog", "log, "fog") and so forth, using each letter of the alphabet for each separate set of rhyming words until all of the rhyme patterns have been marked.

Scan the poem for end rhyme. End rhyme is when the ending word in a line rhymes with another line in the poem. The end rhyme can be one line after another such as "cat" and "hat" or it can skip a line, such as "cat", "train", "hat". Mark each end word that rhymes with the same letter to help you keep track of the rhyme scheme throughout the poem.

Look for internal rhyme. Internal rhyme is when there are two or more words in a line that rhyme. If words in a line match the rhyme in the last word of the line, you can mark those matching words within the line with the same letter to keep track of both end and internal rhyme. For example, if the first line of the poem is "A cat walked down the hallway in a hat" both cat and hat would be marked with the letter "a."

Read each stanza (usually four or more lines grouped together) for near rhyme. Near rhyme (also called slant or half rhyme) is when two or more words almost rhyme because of the similar sounds the vowels or constants in a word make. In the line "she is so lovely and funny," lovely and funny have similar vowel sounds.

Measuring Meter

Mark all of the stressed and unstressed syllables above each line in the poem. The University of Pennsylvania notes stressed syllables are marked with a forward slant "/" and unstressed syllables are marked with an "X." Stressed syllables are the hard sounds that stand out, whereas unstressed syllables connect the stressed syllables without as much emphasis.

Count the number of stressed and unstressed syllables and their patterns in each line or stanza to determine the metric unit, called a foot. A forward slash or line can be used to separate each metric unit. In many cases, a single line can have more then one metric unit.

Use the metric units to determine any formal patterns in the poem. The University of North Carolina notes some of the most common metrical feet in poetry are iambic (unstressed, stressed), trochaic (stressed, unstressed), anapestic (unstressed, unstressed, stressed) and dactylic (stressed, unstressed, unstressed).

Go through each line looking for repetition of a formal pattern. Start by identifying the stressed and unstressed syllables you notice right away first to give a foundation for the remainder of your work. UNC suggests "marking the monosyllabic nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs as they are normally stressed, fill in the rest of the stressed and unstressed syllables, divide the line into feet (with a line between each pattern)." This information combined will allow you to confidently identify the formal patterns within the poem.

Tip
  • Practice counting the syllables in each line by reading the line aloud and clapping once for each stressed (or hard) syllable. This will help you learn to note the stressed and unstressed syllables in your mind when you read silently.
About the Author

Mia Faller started writing in 2006. Her career includes news and features articles for her university newspaper, "The Clock," book reviews for "The Weirs Times" and print and electronic newsletters for Annie's Book Stop and the New Hampshire Humane Society. Faller's writing interests include animals, religious/metaphysical studies, yoga, body modification and travel. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Plymouth State University.

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