Poetic Meter

Think of poems as having an overall metrical pattern, but watch for where the pattern alters, where the poet introduces a “substitution” or “variation,” and ask your self why the change? Does it make a difference? How does the alteration affect the sound and the sound affect the meaning? Although we usually talk about meter in the context of poetry, remember that prose has meter and rhythm too.


Meter Cheat Sheet
Foot Pattern Example
Two Syllables
Iambic (iamb) light heavy
(like des troy)
When I do count the clock that tells the time or
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Trochaic (trochee) heavy light
(like top sy)
Once upon a midnight weary or
Something there is that does not love a wall
Spondaic (spondee) heavy heavy
(like SPON DEE or humdrum or heartbreak or nightmare; no discernible inflection)
(usually as “substitutes” at the end of a line)
Vaster than empires and more slow; or
Thou foster child of silence and slow time,
Pyrrhic light light
like uhh-uhh
Three Syllables
Anapestic (anapest) light light strong
(like in ter vene)
For the moon never beams
Without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee
Dactylic (dactyl) strong light light
(hap pi ness or mer ri ly)