small logo Meter and Scansion

Scanning a poem and identifying the meter, stanza, and rhyme scheme are only the first steps in analyzing its rhythm. The most important part of the analysis is explaining how this rhythm contributes to the meaning, beauty, and significance of the poem. NB. The following procedure is most useful for poems that employ regular meters.

1. Break the words into syllables, mark the stressed and unstressed syllables, and identify the most common type of metric unit (“foot”); determine whether the poem uses a “rising” or “falling” rhythm.

2. Name the line accordinglyto the number of metric feet (e.g. monometer, dimeter, trimeter, tetrameter, pentameter, hexameter, heptameter, octameter).

3. Describe the stanza pattern, including rhyme scheme (indicated alphabetically: e.g., abba cdc: or abcb; etc.). For examples of some traditional stanza forms, see the Spenserian stanza and terza rima; this page presents an analysis of Edna St. Vincent Millay's use of the Shakespearean sonnet in "Pity Me Not."

EXAMPLES: Note that the stressed syllables are indicated with bold type.

Dactylic tetrameter:

   Down in the | val-leys the | sha-dows are | thick-en-ing;
   Stars com-ing | on and the | lights of the | hou-ses . . .

Anapestic Trimeter and Dimeter:

   There was | a young la | -dy from York
   Who had | a great fond | -ness for pork.
     She ate | it all day
     And ne | -ver could play
  'Cause her hand | would not put | down her fork.

Iambic Tetrameter:

   When-as | in silks | my Jul | -ia goes,
   Then, then, | me-thinks, | how sweet | -ly flows
   That li | -que-fac | -tion of | her clothes!

Trochaic Octameter: Note the caesura (metric pause, marked || below) and the elaborate internal and external rhyme scheme.

   Ah, dis | -tinct-ly | I re | -mem-ber || it was | in the | bleak De | -cem-ber;
   And each | sep-'rate | dy-ing | em-ber || wrought its | ghost u | -pon the | floor.
   Ea-ger | -ly I | wished the | mor-row; || vain-ly | I had | sought to | bor-row
   From my | books sur | -cease of | sor-row || sor-row | for the | lost Le | -nore
   For the | rare and | ra-diant | mai-den || whom the | an-gels | name Le | -nore
                                              Name-less | here for | ev-er | -more.

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Barbara F. McManus
Readings and Assignments II
December 1998