Types of Meter Poetry

The meter of a poem determines the rhythm and speaking style of a poem. The way that the meter is named is through the poem's feet. Feet are sets of syllables with different emphasis on each. They are the building blocks of meter poetry. Still, it's difficult to determine exactly which meter a poem is in and, consequently, how to read that meter. The term "iambic pentameter" may sound like Greek, but it can be understood.


Iambic poetry comes from having verses that feature two-syllable feet. In these feet, the stress is placed on the second syllable, with the first syllable going unstressed. These feet are called "iambs." A poem that features this type of feet is in iambic meter.


Trochaic meter poetry is the reverse of iambic meter poetry. While they both feature two syllables, with one stressed, the order is reversed. In trochaic meter poetry the first syllable is the one which is stressed, and the second is the one that is unstressed.


Pyrrhic meter poetry is another type of two-syllable foot, and has yet a different combination of syllable stress. In pyrrhic meter poetry, no syllable in the feet has emphasis.


Spondee meter poetry is the reverse of pyrrhic poetry. This type also features feet with two syllables, but spondee poetry has both syllables stressed.


Instead of featuring only two syllables per foot, anapestic poetry has three. Anapestic poetry works like a cousin of iambic poetry, as it also follows the unstressed-stressed pattern. The emphasis in anapestic poetry goes two unstressed syllables, then one stressed syllable.


The other main type of meter poetry that features three-syllable feet is dactylic poetry. This one is more like the cousin of trochaic poetry. A foot in it also starts with a stressed syllable. Afterward, though, its feet have two unstressed syllables.


The second half of the label of a meter type is determined by the poem's length. The way the length of a meter poem is illustrated is by looking at the number of feet in each line of the poem. After this, simply find the word that corresponds to that number. For example, a poem that has only two feet in each line is in "dimeter." A poem with only one foot per line would be "monometer." Three feet would make a line in "trimeter." Four feet makes "tetrameter," while five feet is "pentameter." A line with six feet is "hexameter." Seven feet in a line makes for "heptameter." This is the second half of the name of a type of meter poetry. For example, a poem that features five feet per line, all of them pairs of syllables going unstressed then stressed, would be in iambic pentameter.

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