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What is Rhythm in Poetry? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:07 Definition of Rhythm
  • 0:34 Types of Meter
  • 2:12 Rhythm in Poetry
  • 3:32 Another Example of Rhythm
  • 4:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Debbie Notari
In this lesson, we will explore the idea of rhythm, or beat, in poetry. Every poem that is not free verse has a type of rhythm. We also call that rhythm 'meter.' Rhythm is an important part of the structure of a poem.

Definition of Rhythm

What is rhythm in poetry? Think of a song you like. What is it about that song that makes you tap your feet or want to dance? It is the rhythm of the song. In a similar way, all poems that are not written in free verse have rhythm, or a beat, as well. We also call that beat meter. Each specific syllable in a line of poetry is called a foot. This is also referred to as a unit of meter.

Types of Meter

There are five main types of beats, or meter, that we use in poetry. Here, we will take a brief look at each type. In poetry, rhythm is expressed through stressed and unstressed syllables. Take the word, poetry, for example. The first syllable is stressed, and the last two are unstressed, as in PO-e-try. Here are the most common types of meter in the English language:

  1. Iamb: The Iamb is a pattern of one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable, as in the word: en-JOY.
  2. Trochee: The trochee is one stressed syllable followed by one unstressed syllable, as in the word: CON-quer.
  3. Spondee: Spondee is a pattern of two stressed syllables in poetry. The pattern may cross over from word to word in a poem. An example of spondee might be: GO! GO! Both 1-syllable words are stressed.
  4. Anapest: The anapest is a combination of two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable. Take this phrase: to the NORTH. The first two syllables are unstressed, while the final syllable is stressed.
  5. Dactyl: The dactyl is the opposite of the anapest, in that it has one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables as in the phrase: FLY a-way.

These metrical units, or feet, make up the beat or rhythm of poetry. Now let's take a look at how rhythm is used in actual poems.

Rhythm in Poetry

We will take a look at two poems, and analyze them for meter in order to discover their rhythm. The first poem is by Emily Dickinson, entitled 'Will There Really Be a Morning?'

'Will there really be a morning?
Is there such a thing as day?
Could I see it from the mountains
If I were as tall as they?
Has it feet like water-lilies?
Has it feathers like a bird?
Is it brought from famous countries
Of which I have never heard?
Oh, some scholar! Oh, some sailor!
Oh, some wise man from the skies!
Please to tell a little pilgrim
Where the place called morning lies!
'

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