Document 98758

Situation 2.
A boy works hard for two years at after school jobs so he can buy
the one thing he wants most in the world-a motorcycle. He finally
manages to buy one, takes it out for a ride, and is killed when it skids
off the road.
The same kind of ironic reversal can then be discussed in such poems as "KnowIt Boheimer" by Edgar
Lee Masters (in which a young man runs away to join the army in order to avoid being jailed and is immedi­
ately killed in a battle), "Dust" by Sydney King Russell (in which a housewife who has fought dust all her
life dies and turns into dust), or e. e. cummings' "Nobody Loses All the Time" (in which a man who
attempts-and fails at-all sorts of farming finally dies and succeeds in running a worm farm).
You can point out to students that the irony of situation in some poems results not from a reversal of
a particular character's expectations about a situation but from an upsetting of our own expectations about
the way life ought to be. Sarah Cleghorn's brief poem "The Golf Links," which describes children forced
to work in a factory looking out to see men playing at golf, is a fine example of this type of irony of
A regular pattern of sound within the poem. This pattern is
identified by (a) the number of feet within each line (the number of stressed
syllables within each line) and (b) the type of foot consistently employed in
each line (the type of regular alternation of each stressed syllable with a certain
number of unstressed syllables).
Terms used to indicate the number of feet per line:
manometer-one foot (one stressed syllable) per line
dimeter-two feet (two stressed syllables) per line
trimeter-three feet (three stressed syllables) per line
tetrameter-four feet (four stressed syllables) per line
pentameter-five feet (five stressed syllables) per line
hexameter-six feet (six stressed syllables) per line
heptameter-seven feet (seven stressed syllables) per line
octameter-eight feet (eight stressed syllables) per line
Terms used to indicate the type of foot consistently employed:
iambic-each stressed syllable is preceded by an unstressed one
v /
(to-night; re-ceive)
I-am-bics march from short to long.
trochaic-each stressed syllable is followed by an unstressed one
./ u
(sim p-Iy ; dai-Iy)
Tro-chee trips from long to short.
anapestic-each stressed syllable is preceded by two unstressed ones
.V lJ
(m-ter-cept; sab-o-teur)
v v /"
With a leap and a bound the swift
/"v v
An a pests truong.
dactylic-each stressed syllable is followed by two unstressed ones
(an-I-mal; cap-a-ble)
Ev-er to come up with Dac-tyl
/. v'-'
Only rarely does a poem retain a perfectly regular rhythmic
pattern throughout. Frequent small variations in the pattern of alternating
stressed and unstressed syllables provide variety of sound and allow emphasis
at certain points in the poem. The length of line may also occasionally vary,
a tetrameter line and hexameter one replacing two pentameters, for example.
In indicating the meter of a poem we are merely indicating the basic pattern of
sound in the poem, realizing that variations in this pattern will generally occur.
Other ways of measuring and constructing metrical patterns can be used.
The poet Marianne Moore, for example, constructed lines so they would con­
tain a set number of syllables, regardless of stresses. Gerard Manley Hopkins
employed a sprung rhythm in which the stressed syllables are frequently jammed
against each other in the line and the number of unstressed syllables in each line
constantly varies.
Identifying Stressed Syllables
In order to identify, or even to hear, the meter of a poem the student needs first to be able to identi:':
the stressed and unstressed syllables in multi-syllable words. In effect, then, students must be able to ider:­
tify the metrical pattern of each word before they can identify the metrical pattern of a line. If your stu­
dents are unable to do this, you will have to begin your study of meter with exercises on marking stressed
syllables in words. Dictionaries are of only very limited usefulness for such exercises. Students need to be
able to hear the stresses within words. Yet each individual may hear a stressed syllable differently. To 50::­
it will sound louder, to others longer or slower, to still others higher in pitch than the other syllables in a
word. The problem is compounded by the fact that a few students will be unable to distinguish any diffe:-­
ences between stressed and unstressed syllables. (For such students you can point to words like "record"
or "object" which change their meaning depending on which syllable you stress when you pronounce the
Because of these individual differences you might need to show students several ways of listening for
a stressed syllable. You could, for example, have the class clap out the beat of several words, clapping
louder and longer for the stressed syllables. If you (or your students) have a guitar or other musical instru­
ment which can be brought to class, you can demonstrate how a stressed syllable causes a rise in pitch:
mer ca
'\10st importantly, students can pronounce words aloud together slowly, giving particularly strong empha­
sis to the stressed syllables, until students' ears become attuned to the changes in both rhythm and pitch
which accompany a stressed syllable.
If you are going to emphasize the technical vocabulary of prosody-if you expect students to be able
ro distinguish between iambic and trochaic meters, for example-you can save time and confusion by intro­
ducing these technical tenns immediately in these exercises. That is, instead of merely asking students to
point out the stressed and unstressed syllables in a word, you might additionally ask them to identify the
'Kord as either iambic, dactylic, trochaic, and so on.
Determining the Meter of a Poem
Once students can identify the stresses in multi-syllable words they can begin to work out the meter
l21 actual lines. The following rules for determining stresses in a line will be helpful to them at this point:
Rule 1. A multi-syllable word will always retain its usual stress pattern.
Rule 2. An unstressed syllable located between two other unstressed syllables
will become stressed.
v<'d becomes
Example: caut-lOUS
cats ar·rwe
" , . V /' v / , d
caut-lOus cats ar·rwe
Rule 3. In a series of single syllable words, every second word is generally
The dogs that bay, the cats that mew.
Rule 4. Stress important words as dictated by the sense of the poem. Ignore
rules 2 and 3 if they result in stressing unimportant words (articles,
prepositions) rather than key words (nouns, pronouns, verbs).
Example: Jack and Jill went up the hill.
Since rule 3 would result in a stress pattern that emphasizes
unimportant words, like this­
Jack and Jill went up the hillwe can pretend there is an invisible syllab1e before the name
Jack and Jill went up the hillthus shifting the stresses to more of the key words.
( V
You can demonstrate to students how these rules can help them scan (determine the meter of) a
Here is an example of how this process works. Using these lines from "Meeting at Night" by Robert
BrowningThe gray sea and the long black land; And the yellow half-moon large and low; And the startled little waves that leap In fiery ringlets from their sleep . ..­
we look first at multi-syllable words in the poem, since these words (rule I) always retain their usual
patterns. Part of the metrical pattern can thus be established from these words:
The gray sea and the long black land;
And the yell-ow half-moon large and low;
.... v
And the star-tIed lit-tIe waves that leap
../ IV
l-er-yv nngets ,rom
t h'
elr seep.
We can now apply rule 2 to the words "large" in line 2, "waves" in line 3, and "from" in line 4,
each of these is an as yet unstressed syllable located between two other unstressed ones. We place stn
on each of these words:
And the yell-ow half-moon large and low;
v ./v ./
And the star-tlea lit-tle waves that leap
/v v ~
In fl-er-y nng-lets from thew sleep. ..
We next apply rule 3 and stress every second word in a series of single syllable words:
The gray sea and tIie long black land;
And the yell-ow half-moon large and low;
..... 1.,.1
And the star-tled lit-tle waves that leap
v /'v v /'
In fi-er-y ring-lets from their sleep ...
However, we see that in lines 2 and 3 this results in placing two stressed syllables together­
And the yell-ow . ..
,/ v And the star-tIed. .. and moreover violates rule 4, which states that the stresses should be on important words. We thus re
the stresses from the words "the" in both lines, allowing both lines to begin with two unstressed syllal
/' u
And the yell-ow . .. v
./ V
And the star-tIed. ..
This arrangement seems correct, since it creates an equal number of stressed syllables-or feet-in all tl
However, one last change seems necessary. One of the key words in the first line-"sea"-is unstressed
while the unimportant word "and" is stressed. Following rule 4, we shift the stress to the more important
word, and our scansion is complete:
The gray sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
And the startled little waves that leap
v !"Vl,J -(" V
In fIery rmglets from their sleep . ..
We can now see that an interesting-and unusual, rhythmic pattern exists in the poem. While every
line is consistently tetrameter, two patterns of feet occur regularly in the poem-iambic and anapestic.
(Each anapest is indicated by square brackets below, each iambic by parentheses.) An unusual spondee-­
two stressed syllables occuring together-also occurs in the first line.
(The gray) sea [and the long] (black land);
[And the yell (ow half)-(moon large) (and low);
[And the star] (tied lit) (tie waves) (that leap)
(In fi) [ery ring] (lets from) (their sleep) . ..
In placing a metrical label on such a poem, should we call it iambic or anapestic? Because iambic is
considered the normal meter of English speech, we should probably label the poem as anapestic. That is,
since the iambic feet are considered to occur naturally, while the anapestic ones are carefully contrived by
the poet, we should probably stress the artful aspects of the meter in our label.
Writing Number Poems
This is not a poetry-writing activity as such but is rather a group activity which can be used with stu­
dents of all ability levels to introduce the relationship of sound and sense. To begin the exercise, list the
numbers 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 19, 20, and 21 on the board, and point out to the class that when pronounced
iloud these numbers represent I-syllable, 2-syllable, and 3-syllable sounds. Then ask students to write a
Joem, using only these nine numbers and any punctuation they desire, that has some basic underlying idea
) f emotion behind it. (By having students use only numbers in their poems, you can ensure that they focus
mly on sound, ignoring sense for the moment.) You might give them the following model to show them
,"hat you mean; this student number poem is based on the idea of someone getting stuck and suddenly
reeing him or herself:
5,6, 5,6, 5... 6? 7! When each student has written anumber poem, turn back to the numbers on the board and ask the
ass to supply two words to represent each number, the only requirement being that the words must be
nilar in syllable count and stress pattern to the numbers they replace. (Sev-en, for example, could be
presented by lis-ten or light-ning but not by wild or re-new.) When you tell the students that these words
11 be used to replace all the numbers in the poems they've just written, their interest in this task will
obably be intense, since everyone will feel some investment in what words will be chosen. As words are
[led out, ask for confirmation of the choices, and if there is general agreement, write the words next to
~ appropriate numbers.