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Question regarding poetic meter (1 Viewer)

Foxee

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After having done NaPoWriMo in the spring and with so many poets on WF I've tried several times to read and understand some of the technical aspects of poetry.

I realize I have a very difficult time hearing/discerning the stressed vs. unstressed syllables that make up meter when I look at examples as on this LitCharts.com page. Maybe I'm expecting to pick something up from normal speech cadence but it's not really happening.

Is there a method that can help me with this?
 

Darren White

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That's a difficult question to answer without going into an almost incomprehensible technical explanation.
I also think that the majority of the poems written in NaPoWriMo aren't written with meter at all.

At the same time it's the hardest thing to teach, I have a friend, who composes and plays the guitar. He was determined to master iambic pentameter (da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM) but he never learned it, whatever I tried, he didn't get it. I am not sure what causes that. But I do have a theory. It happens when one becomes too focused on "getting the meter right".

When we sometimes say that a poem sings, that it has great rhythm, that doesn't necessarily mean that there's a discoverable existing meter to find there. Most times it only means that it sounds great when spoken aloud, that there's a rhythm to it that feels good.

I can link numerous pages on meter for you, and I will if you like me to, but perhaps it's better to talk about your question and my reply first.
 

Foxee

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If you don't mind discussing it first, that might help more. Your guitarist friend is a great example, same sort of problem.

When I read explanations about meter and even (so far) watch videos the concept seems easy. Stressed and unstressed syllables, pretty much a natural feature of language.

But when I read the examples out loud I find myself speaking unnaturally to follow the indications on the page, I guess to try to hear the meter better. And then I find myself questioning, "Well, you wouldn't always say words exactly the same because depending on what you mean the stresses can change, can't they?" And it's usually about then that I give up and close whatever page I'm on.

At some points I've brushed over what must be some of the more technical aspects, that certain words are never stressed, etc. I figured I could pick that up as refinements if I ever can get this.

I was also a little foggy about how important meter is so thank you for explaining that it's not lurking in every poem without me hearing it. Many poetry pages start there so meter does seem like a foundational concept.
 

Darren White

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That natural feature of language you are talking about is actually only one meter: iamb.
And it only is natural in some languages. And even then, national, or even regional differences in dialect mess up with that so-called naturality :)
the word iamb is two syllables in English i-amb, and one in my language (yamb).
The same with poem, po-em in English, poem (pohm) in some regions.
So, as you can see, nothing is completely natural, and it makes meter complicated.

Scansion (paying attention to stress patterns) is very important when writing in known forms like sonnets. Those are written in iambic pentameter, rhyming or blank verse doesn't matter. And sticking to meter is very important there.

Free verse has other poetic devices that are equally important, but do not have that specific da-DUM or da-da-DUM to it.

And it's not so much about words being stressed or not, the placement within the line is also important
 
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Foxee

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I understand about the differing languages and syllables though that makes me wonder how scansion is carried out in regard to meter. Sounds difficult. Also sounds like the almost incomprehensible technical explanation would be triggered in that case.
And it's not so much about words being stressed or not, the placement within the line is also important
Hmm...okay, I need to investigate this aspect, I wasn't getting that on the pages I was reading. Perhaps because I gave up too soon. :oops:
 

clark

Met3 Member
Staff member
Chief Mentor
Foxee -- try this, as a starting point: "without da beat dere ain't no meat" . Language serves one purpose and one purpose only: to transport a message successfully from a speaker to a listener in a given context. The qualifying phrase is critical to comprehension and subsequent action, which are the TWO RESULTS of the whole exercise. A single word, uttered in complete isolation (somehow or other!!) has no meaning. It is merely a flag. A signal. A possibility. Your para 3 in your post #3 above is stated by you as your "problem with metre". Not at all. Your para. 3 in 3 is in fact an excellent statement of the reality of language-in-use. You don't have a problem understanding metre. You're mystifying something that is quite simple. As you say, context will guide you.

What's that on the road ahead?
What's that on the road ahead?
What's that on the road ahead?
What's that on the road ahead?
What's that on the road, a head?

You can't NOT hear the beat of a word, and stay sane. Imagine someone talking to the baker: "I want two dozen loaves of sesame dinner rolls . . . ." Such emphasis on the wrong syllable would completely throw off the poor baker, who would be so fascinated by the fucked-up beat, he wouldn't get the order.

Wittgenstein says in Philosophical Investigations (if someone said to me they only had time in the rest of their life to read ONE book about the nature of language--that's the book I'd give them [actually it is online in toto]) . . .anyhoo, he says, "uttering a word is like striking a note on the keyboard of the imagination." What a deliciously downright provocative thing to say about how we work with words! Interestingly, however, only very rarely do we "work" with the stress patterns within the syllabic structure of compound words. No one says "indefatigable" or "indiscreet" or "Colorado". So my suggestion, Foxee, is that you read ALOUD some poetry where da beat is so engrained and self-evident that you can't miss it. I really think that if you simply HEAR that iambic beat, a lot, you'll realize that you grasp and feel it much more than you might think right now. And, like Darren, I'd suggest you stick to the iambic beat for this exercise.

Th e stag at eve had drunk his fill,
Where danced the moon on Monan's rill,
And deep his midnight lair had made
In lone Glenartney's hazel shade;
But when the sun his beacon red
Had kindled on Benvoirlich's head,
The deep-mouthed bloodhound's heavy bay
Resounded up the rocky way,
And faint, from farther distance borne,
Were heard the clanging hoof and horn.

(opening stanza of "The Lady of the Lake", Sir Walter Scott)

Or if something a little more cerebral might appeal, read aloud Alexander Pope's "Essay on Criticism" or his "Essay on Man". If you are feeling masochistic to the point of gastric upheaval, you could read a truly hideous but truly, truly rhythmic piece of early Canadian poetry called "The Bull". Here's the opening stanza. . . which I will never forget:

Oh see an old unhappy bull,
Sick in soul and body both
Slouching in the undergrowth
Of the forest beautiful.
Banished from the herd he led,
Bulls and cows one thousand head.
 
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Darren White

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Oh see an old unhappy bull,
Sick in soul and body both
Slouching in the undergrowth
Of the forest beautiful.
Banished from the herd he led,
Bulls and cows one thousand head.
Cool post Clark, thanks!
As for the above quote. I think that Foxee (forgive me for speaking on your behalf) has a problem with this exactly. Because the lines do not all start either stressed or unstressed. And when you're not well-versed in meter, that throws you off-balance :)
I made bold and red in the quote what I mean. The first line starts with an unstressed syllable (Oh)
And "Of the forest beautiful" it is debatable where the first stress lies. Either on "Of" or on "fo"(rest)
 

clark

Met3 Member
Staff member
Chief Mentor
AAARRRGH! Dammit! In my enthusiasm to sneer at "The Bull" I forgot those pesky Trochees! Darren is quite correct, Foxee--please disregard "The Bull" as an example.

Easy to do . . . .

Thank you Darren.
 

Darren White

co-owner and admin
Staff member
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I've brushed over what must be some of the more technical aspects, that certain words are never stressed, etc.
Hmm...okay, I need to investigate this aspect, I wasn't getting that on the pages I was reading. Perhaps because I gave up too soon. :oops:
What's that on the road ahead?
What's that on the road ahead?
What's that on the road ahead?
What's that on the road ahead?
What's that on the road, a head?
Foxee, what I meant about some words being stressed or not, depending on their placement within the line is exactly what Clark shows you in the quote here. I couldn't have explained it better :)
 

Foxee

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You don't have a problem understanding metre. You're mystifying something that is quite simple.
I'm actually really talented at this! I can mystify nearly anything.

The light has come on though the fog and this makes much more sense now. The meter/metre is affected by the speech patterns of the writer but the weight of the words/syllables is also their meaning. Meter as a structural component can carry context.

Clark, your examples, even the discussion with Darren over the one about the bull, are so helpful and I think finally got through the murk.

And when you're not well-versed in meter, that throws you off-balance :smile:
LOL :angel:

Sounds like the next step is to try it out. They say that anything that's worth doing is worth doing really horribly at first so when I manage to get something written out, you've been warned.

Thank you SO MUCH for taking the time and explaining so well.
 

Pulse

Honoured/Sadly Missed
S.T. Coleridge wrote a poem for his young son, on 'Metrical Feet'. I think he was trying to make the sound of stresses in his poem do what it says; that does not make it easy, but it helps demonstrate how daDUM sounds: like THIS. For example THUMPing is trochaic; so is gee whiz (where the GEE explodes and whiz disappears like residual smoke).
 

Foxee

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I looked up the poem and bookmarked it, thanks, Pulse! It's quite a glossary to tackle and like any new language it'll take some time. The poem is also adorable at the end.

If I learn it like I have music and Spanish then I'm afraid I'll still have the understanding of a three-year-old after some work but it looks to be worth the try.
 

clark

Met3 Member
Staff member
Chief Mentor
Hey Foxee! So yer biased against three-year-olds, eh? Got the ol' Flag Of Prejudiced Analogies (FOPA) flapping quietly in the back there, where ya figger you can sneak in yer Slanted Terms of Deceit (STDs) an' no one will notice eh? Foxee BANNED FOR LIFE for Flagrant Offences Against Misunderstood Youth (FOAMY) and other frothy charges just as soon as we can figure out how we can manufacture them to sound convincing.
 
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