Copyright

Elements of Poetry: Rhythm

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: How to Analyze Emotion in Poetry

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 00:05 Rhythm, Meter, and Feet
  • 01:30 Breaking Down a Line
  • 02:00 Digging Deeper
  • 02:51 Example One - Sea Fever
  • 04:00 Example Two - An Essay…
  • 05:02 Example Three - Wild Nights
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Login or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Lineberger

Jason has 20 years of education experience including 14 years of teaching college literature.

Poetry often has a defined beat or rhythm. In this lesson, you'll review the most common forms of poetic rhythm before diving deeper into how those rhythms influence the overall effect of the poem.

Rhythm, Meter and Feet

The advanced placement test for English literature is a tough one. Over the course of a morning, you'll have to answer over 50 multiple choice questions and write three essays. What makes it even more challenging is the fact that over 50% of the test will be on poetry, and the typical high school student has read much more fiction than poetry. Don't be intimidated; sometimes all you need to get started on a poem is a way in, and rhythm can be the place to start.

Let's start with a quick review of the technical aspects of rhythm. Meter is the term we use for a regular pattern of beats in a poem. Those patterns are made of feet, the basic unit of meter. You can name the meter of a line by figuring out what kinds of feet are in the line and then counting how many are there. For instance, the most common foot is the iamb, two syllables following the pattern unstressed, stressed. In other words, the first syllable is soft, while the second is loud. The word 'destroy' is an iamb because it has two syllables. The first one is quiet, and the second one is loud.

Once you've figured out the type of foot, you count how many appear in the line and that gives you the name of the meter. Trimeter has three feet per line, tetrameter has four feet and pentameter contains five feet per line. Most metrical lines have three to five feet, although there are some rare examples that go longer or shorter.

Breaking Down a Line

Let's take a look at a line of poetry. Wordsworth wrote, 'I wandered, lonely as a cloud'. If you listen closely, you'll hear the pattern of soft-loud-soft-loud. 'I WANdered, LONEly AS a CLOUD'. Each line in his poem has four iambs, so we call it iambic tetrameter. If it had five iambs - like, 'But soft! What light through yonder window breaks' - we'd call it iambic pentameter.

Digging Deeper

Unfortunately, being able to identify the meter won't get you very far on the AP literature test, so you'll have to do a little more. If the poem is written in strict iambic meter that never deviates once, then meter is not the place to start your interpretation, but if the poem ever breaks meter or uses a different foot, then you can use that to launch your interpretation.

Here's the technique in a nutshell. First, find the place in the poem where the meter is not strict iambic, and start there. Ask yourself the question every AP student learns to ask, 'What is the effect of this on the reader?' Don't worry about trying to find the DHM (deep hidden meaning) of the poem; just think, 'What does this change in rhythm do for me as a reader?' Let's look at a few examples.

Example One - Sea Fever

John Masefield wrote the poem Sea Fever 100 years ago. Here's the first line, 'I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky'. This line starts off iambic, 'I MUST go DOWN,' but then it does something different. It adds some extra unstressed syllables, 'to the SEA aGAIN, to the LONEly SEA and the SKY'.

Even if you don't know the word for a foot that follows the pattern unstressed/unstressed/stressed, you should recognize that it's not iambic and ask yourself how it affects you. By the way, that type of foot is called an anapest. These feet give the line a rolling, galloping rhythm. It almost sounds like waves lapping onto the shore. Hey, remember, these things don't happen by accident! It's no mistake that Masefield happened to write a poem that goes iamb/iamb/anapest/iamb/anapest/iamb/anapest. That's hard to do! The rhythm creates a galloping roll, much like ocean waves, and it takes a poem about longing for the ocean and makes the reader feel that longing in the very beat of the lines.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register for a free trial

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Free 5-day trial

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 160 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!
Create An Account
Support