The usual types of metre used in poetry
Metre is the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in poetry. (Some books use the words accented and unaccented for stressed and unstressed.) For example, the word “empty” has two syllables, with the first one stressed and the second one unstressed.
The basic metrical unit is called a foot. In poetry, most feet contain one stressed syllable and one or two unstressed syllables.
Poetry is usually written in lines, and we use special words to tell us how many feet there are in each line, usually three, four or five, but sometimes two or more than five:
- A line with two feet is called a dimiter
- A line with three feet is called a trimeter
- A line with four feet is called a tetrameter
- A line with five feet is called a pentameter
Note that we write metre in British English and meter in American English. The names of the lines, however, have to be spelt –meter (as in pentameter, tetrameter etc.) in both varieties of English. (What a language!)
We also use special words to denote the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables within each foot:
u / : the iamb; an iambic metre (as in belong)
u u /: an anapest; an anapestic metre (as in on your toes)
/ u: a trochee; a trochaic metre (as in empty)
/ u u: a dactyl; a dactylic metre (as in laughable)
/ /: a spondee; a spondaic metre (as in cold feet)
Choose two or three poems and study the way the poet has made use of metre.