For the Poets Among Us

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Perhaps you all can advise.

When I write and let the words flow as they naturally flow and follow carefully their internal rhythms and mechanics, I almost always wind up with lines of 9 or 11 syllables.

For example, this line,

and richly has delivered on that promise.

I can change it and make it conform to "standard" prosody, and yet to do so changes the meaning, rhythm, and meter to such an extent that the poem, while it may be technically perfect thuds and limps.

Some poetic voices conform nicely to iambic pentameter, but I'll be honest, I've never thought it the rhythm of English speech, though many will swear that it is the "natural rhythm of English." To me it always sounds a little stilted, a little forced, a little off. Not badly so, but enough so that you can tell you're hearing a line of poetry--and while that isn't bad, it seems rather like letting the audience know how you made the penny vanish.

Any opinions, ideas, suggestions, notions, or . . . I don't know. I'd love to hear any feedback.

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In this case, you're ending the line with a 2- syllable word, the first accent is stressed and the second is unstressed: a feminine ending syllable. An iambic line with a feminine ending would normally have 11 syllables.

The best thing I've read on meter is Timothy Steele's book, All the Fun's in How You Say a Thing.


Actually, while the natural rhythm of English is truly iambic, we say that only because it is predominantly so. We do not speak always in perfect iambic, nor did even Shakespeare always write in perfect iambic. As you say, it would sound stilted to do so.

A 9 syllable line is actually quite regular if you tend to write in anapestic or dactylic meter (2 unstressed then 1 stressed, and 1 stressed then two unstressed, respectively). As for an 11 syllable line, while not exactly "regular" (though really, it's just a pentameter line with an extra syllable), I've always found that the extra syllable helps carry the rhythm over to the next line very well, thus creating strong fluidity. Basically, meter ain't as exact a science as we've been led to believe.

Hope this hasn't been too pedantic.

I remembered that this is online:
Timothy Steele on Meter



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 1, 2007 5:28 PM.

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