iambic versus trochee, does it matter?


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Thread: iambic versus trochee, does it matter?

  1. #1

    iambic versus trochee, does it matter?

    It is easy to find definitions of iambic and trochee. I can't find (on the internet) anyone who cares.

    I want to know if they produce different moods. I know, anything is possible in theory. But do they do anything different? I will settle for cliche at the moment?

    Or music, I can't find that either. I thought it would be so easy. I'm interested in fiction, but that's my problem, I thought some effect in poetry or music would be well-known.
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  2. #2
    Torchee hits hard. Stessed, unstressed.

    Iambic is a softened touch. Unstressed, stressed.

    Torchee has an inherent edge, an almost impatient cadence. An urgency, of sorts.

    Iambic is all about the smooth and steady pace. No rush, no muss, no hard edges.

    The meters help determine the pacing of a poem.


  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Darkkin View Post
    Torchee hits hard. Stessed, unstressed.

    Iambic is a softed touch. Unstressed, stressed.

    Torchee has an inherent edge, an almost impatient cadence. An urgency, of sorts.

    Iambic is all about the smooth and steady pace. No rush, no muss, no hard edges.

    The meters help determine the pacing of a poem.
    Hmmm. That's . . . perfect.
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  4. #4
    Iambic is also the 'normal' cadence of speech for most people. Like the majority of people being right handed, it comes easily to most poets. Personally, as a writer, I find it eerie and a bit awkward. My own cadence is more in tune with torchee...It is the left handed beat of the poetry world.

    An excellent resource on poetry and meter, Stephen Fry's The Ode Less Travelled. It covers meter, form, amd everything in between. User friendly for writers of all skill levels and is written with Fry's inherent charm.

    Others can, and probably will, go into much more knowledgeable detail, but that is the gist of it.

    - D.


  5. #5
    Fry was mostly just vocabulary, which didn't help me. Right now, for my book on modern grammar, I have:

    I don't know of anyone looking at beat in fiction writing. But I asked about trochee (emphasized syllable first) versus iamb (emphasized syllable second). One poet said to me: "Trochee hits hard. It has an inherent edge, an almost impatient cadence. An urgency, of sorts. Iambic is a softer touch. It is all about the smooth and steady pace. No rush, no muss, no hard edges."
    No offense, I would rather quote a book. But that will do, I'm trying to make suggestions and make them sound reasonable, not prove some point.
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  6. #6
    Global Moderator Squalid Glass's Avatar
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    I would fight back on the notion that the average person speaks in iambics. William Carlos Williams noticed this (about American speech) and built an entirely new style around it. I think speech is more varied than a simple breakdown of pattern.

    That being said, I think measuring meter and manipulating stresses can do wonders for rhyming.
    "I don't do anything with my life except romanticize and decay with indecision."

    "America I've given you all and now I'm nothing."

  7. #7
    Emma, I'm someone who cares about meter, having written an article about it on my web site.

    The problem with your question -- what's the difference in mood between iambs and trochees -- is that they almost never stand alone. In other words, a poem rarely has just one two-syllable line. Almost always, the iambs or trochees get strung together. When they do, they end up having a similar sound:

    da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM (iambic pentameter)
    DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da (trochaic pentameter)

    In a stanza of iambic pentameter poetry, some lines may be iambic while some are trochaic. When you mix them together, it is hard to tell any difference between them. In pure form, however, trochees may sound marginally more commanding and assertive than iambs do because the stressed syllable comes first. But there are complications, as follows:

    da DUM / da DUM / da DUM / da DUM / da DUM / da

    That represents a line of iambic pentameter poetry with a "hyper-metrical" syllable at the end.

    x DUM / da DUM / da DUM / da DUM / da DUM

    That represents a line of iambic pentameter poetry with a "headless iamb" at the beginning.

    da DUM / da DUM / da DUM / DUM da / da DUM

    That represents a line of iambic pentameter poetry with a trochee substituting for the fourth foot.

    da DUM / da DUM / DUM da / DUM da / da DUM

    That represents a line of iambic pentameter poetry with trochees substituting for the third and fourth feet.

    With all these variations (and there are more), it can be hard to distinguish between the two meters (i.e., iambic and trochaic).

    Let me point out that it is very rare for any poet to write an entire poem in trochaic meter (trimeter, tetrameter, pentameter, hexameter, etc.). More common is for people to write in iambic meters with trochees as variants.

    So what is the difference between poetry and prose? In prose, there are far fewer stressed syllables, and less rhythm overall.

    Typical prose:

    JAN and i went to the SUPermarket today to buy GRAPES, but there WEREn't any so we got PEARS inSTEAD.

  8. #8
    I liked your essay (here). I hadn't realized the problems in determining meter in poetry, so that was nice to read -- I am painfully aware of them in prose because I'm trying to do that.

    Maybe prose is easier to analyze?

    He swung to his left, crouching, lunging into Marie St. Jacques, his shoulder crashing into her stomach, sending her reeling back toward the steps. The muffled cracks came in staccato repetition;
    The author (Ludlum) already did a lot of the analysis for me -- he broke things into groups of up to seven words. I looked how many words came before the first emphasized syllable. Is above, it tends to be less in Ludlum's action scenes. (And the effect is even bigger if there is an emphasis on "shoulder" or "muffled".)

    In the following excerpt, regret doesn't fit in metrically. Paying attention to meter gets a lot more interesting if you realize that maybe that's a small error.

    rage and need and confusion regret horror shame and hatred
    So, obviously, the tools for poetry don't translate perfectly into prose. But I have always found it useful to pay attention to the tools of poetry.
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  9. #9
    Emma, I'm sorry that I didn't see your post sooner, which I assume was directed to me.

    Meter is only for poetry -- that's my opinion anyway. With prose, a writer is expected to listen to the flow of the words and decide whether or not she likes them. This post of yours is the first time that I have ever encountered anyone who wanted to apply meter to prose (and I am an old man) -- but then, it is also true that I only frequent poetry forums.

    Here's the problem: In poetry, meter allows for more or less than just the "official" beats that the meter seems to require. Thus, a line of iambic pentameter (five beats per line) can have anywhere from three to seven stressed syllables. The same thing is true of prose -- more stressed syllables mean more emphasis to the meaning, fewer stressed syllables mean less emphasis to the meaning. Also, given the fact that prose naturally has fewer stresses than poetry, my opinion is that you should let your ear be the judge and forget about applying meter to prose.

    By the way, if you are writing prose poetry, that is considered to be poetry, and you should post it in the poetry section.

    In my reading of your line above, I would also emphasize "steps" -- just thought I'd mention that.

  10. #10
    Shakespeare wrote all of his work, both poetry and prose (plays) in iambic...(Romeo and Juilet...The balcony scene, one of the most referenced examples of iambic in english as a whole. ) That speaks to the fact that it can be used in both mediums, the format being determined by the author. Given that Shakespeare's work was meant to be spoken one can understand why he used iambic. Much like daVinci's mirror writing it became habit. Practice made perfect, and it is a massive body of work comprised of both poetry and prose that utilize the format.

    Reading aloud as one writes can help tune the ear for cadence and rhythm. Listen and consider, does the infliction fit the desired pace? More critically, does the pacing correlate with the scene and/or medium? A simple tool, but like the Archimede's screw, a highly effective one.

    Just some thoughts.

    - D.
    Last edited by Darkkin; June 19th, 2018 at 05:04 AM.


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