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Chapter #3 - Reading and Writing Further

i. Structure: Poets Must First Learn to Use Their Feet

drum Poetry is the music of spoken words. In learning language skills every child becomes intrigued by childhood rhymes and chants. People may disagree whether common rhymed forms of poetry are better than free verse and other unrhymed forms, but there will be some who continue to write each. It is well worth learning to write in different forms.

Common rhyme forms include a variety of ways to write line segments and whole poems. Lines are divided into syllables and feet. A syllable is a word or part of a word that contains one vowel. A foot is a unit that contains one or more syllables in a regular pattern. A line usually contains a set number of feet.

Consider these lines from The Tyger by William Blake:

Tyger! tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,

In the first line there are seven syllables in four feet, of which each foot is a single word. The second line has the same number of syllables and feet, but has six words. The lines are written in Iambic tetrameter. Iambic means having two-syllable feet with the emphasis on the second syllable. Tetrameter means that each line has four feet. In a poem the lines are commonly framed in set patterns of number of feet per line or in alternating numbers. Syllables are either accented or unaccented. In two-syllable feet the first or second, or both syllables, may be accented. In the lines by Blake, above, the rhythm pattern may be read thus by a young reader:

TYger! TYger! BURning BRIGHT
IN the FORests OF the NIGHT,

This pattern of emphasis is most like the way the words are likely to be emphasized in a child's chant. In conversation it would read more like this:

TYger! TYger! burning BRIGHT
in the FORests of the NIGHT,

For humor a person may choose to read it thus:

tyGER! tyGER! burNING bright
IN the forESTS of THE night,

Such play with meter will break the flow of the poem. Children often use such alternate rhythms; and such readings can sometimes enhance a poem in unexpected ways. The meter can enhance or detract from the meaning of the poem.

ii. Notice How Skillful Readers Accent the Words

In the following lines from To a Skylark by Percy Bysshe Shelley, the reading can be changed depending on how the reader chooses to interpret. It is a less prescribed meter.

Hail to thee, blithe spirit
Bird, thou never wert.

It can be read:

HAIL to THEE blithe SPIrit
or HAIL to-thee BLITHE SPIrit.

When you read poems, pay attention to how you feel the accents on the feet in a line. When you listen to skillful readers, notice how they accent the words. Do not assume that your reading is wrong just because a famous reader reads it differently. Often a proper reading brings out meanings that another reading would miss or de-emphasize. Also, use your own judgment on an equal par with the experts. sometimes experts in textbooks miss the obvious point of a poem. Sometimes the expert tends to over-complicate the meaning.

iii. Study a Poetry Glossary

There are names for the various feet and meters, You can find them in a good poetry glossary or on the Web in a list of poetic terms. A glossary is found in the back of this book. Other glossaries can be found at many sites online such as the site below. Glossary of Poetic Terms.

Poetry Handbook: A Dictionary of Terms Poetry Handbook: A Dictionary of Terms
by Babette Deutsch
Amazon Price: $11.20
ISBN#: 0064635481
Paperback 4th edition (Jan. '82)
- Purchase your copy on Amazon!

Mechanics of Poetry: A Glossary of Basic Poetic Terms Mechanics of Poetry: A Glossary of Basic Poetic Terms
by Su F. Soref
Amazon Price: $12.99
ISBN#: 096270900X
Paperback (Jan. '96)
- Purchase your copy on Amazon!

Different patterns of feet and rhythm have a strong effect on the poem's meanings. If a foot consists of three syllables, the effect is a rippling pattern that sounds like bursts of activity, such as horses galloping. If you were writing a poem about a cavalry charge you might consider using such a rhythm to set a pace, and then change the pace to emphasize an increase in action.

The following lines are from Swinburne's Triads. Notice whether you think they are appropriate to the subject of the lines.

The word of the sun to the sky,
The word of the wind to the sea,

You will notice the rippling meter,

the WORD of the SUN to the SKY,
the WORD of the WIND to the SEA.

A limerick is a poetic form that uses three-syllable feet. It seldom has a serious tone as it sound's like a child's rhyme pattern. Despite this, serious poets do experiment with three-syllable feet. Writing in metrical forms leads the writer to experiment with many variations of feet and line length.

In some poems a three syllable foot can be read as a one syllable foot and a two syllable foot. Try reading this poem Rondeau by Leigh Hunt both ways.

Jenny kissed me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your lists, put that in:
Say I'm weary, say I'm sad,
Say that health and wealth have missed me,
Say I'm growing old, but add,
Jenny kissed me.

Does the poem seem to be read more comfortably with two, or three syllable accents? Read it again, and have someone else listen for how you naturally accent it.

Article written by Don J. Carlson. All Rights Reserved

For more information, please contact: Don J. Carlson

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