Meter is a systematically arranged and measured rhythm pattern in a literary composition, such as poetry. The root meaning of the word comes from the Greek term for measure.
Meter is the linguistic sound pattern of verse. You can imagine it as being a kind of measured beat of a poem. The precise units of poetic meter will vary from language to language and involve the manner in which syllables are arranged in repeated patterns, called feet, within a line.
English meter is said to be founded on the pattern of stressing and un-stressing of syllables. If meter is an ideal rhythmic pattern, then rhythm becomes meter, the closer it comes to regularity and predictability.
This is due to the human propensity and desire for order. Poetry, as a mode of verbal expression, uses meter as a contributor to meaning. It follows then, that meter in a poem by itself usually means something.
An iamb is a metrical foot, consisting of one short syllable followed by one long syllable, or of one un-stressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable. The most frequently used and most common line of English verse is iambic pentameter, in which the metrical norm is five iambic feet per line. Stanzas of unrhymed iambic pentameter are called blank verse (not to be confused with free verse). Here, the rhythm of lines is often organized into looser units of cadence and sound plays a more subtle role.
Another important meter is called ballad meter or common meter, which is a four-line stanza found in many hymns and used to pair lyrics with melodies. The hymn, “Amazing Grace,” would be illustrative of common, or ballad, meter.
“Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me;
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.”
There have even been some classic poets who have turned their back on meter totally. The Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins is an example. He invented something called “sprung rhythm,” as a poetic technique. This is structured around feet with a variable number of syllables, with the stress usually falling on the first syllable in a foot.
Rhythm is the most vital element of sound in poetry; it is the overall tempo of a poem and rhyme, with a correspondence to word sounds of units of literary composition. Rhyme involves the use of identical or similar sounds in two or more different words. The use of rhyme is not universal, however, and much of modern poetry avoids traditional rhyme schemes. In poetry written in the English language, it is usually the final vowel/consonant sounds that are typically repeated across the rhyming sounds.
When words within a single line are rhymed, this is called internal rhyme. Some common categories of rhyme are tail rhyme, where the stress is on the final or second to last syllable, (chime, grime) (sticky, tricky), and dactylic, where the stress is on the third to last syllable, (president, resident). There is also sight rhyme, where there is a similarity in spelling, but not in sound, slant rhyme, where the sound matches imperfectly and numerous other rhyming techniques.
Michael Hickey is a local writer and poet who lives in Pelican Bay and Swampscott, Mass. His book, “Get Wisdom,” is published by Xlibris Div. Random House Publishing and is available at 1-888-795-4274 Ext. 822, at www.Xlibris.com, or your local bookstore. E-mail Mike Hickey at Mikehic@nii.net.
By Michael Hickey
Among the ancient sermons,
One never to be spurned,
“Beware the morning demons;”
Yesterday’s devils returned.
Today, a fresh new hope,
Comes on the morning sunrise,
The grace of strength to cope;
To reject The Father of Lies.
I can forgive all that’s past,
Be cleansed of all my stain,
Forget the day that was last,
And choose new birth again.
Intersecting with my free will
Is today’s for-given evidence;
God’s Sovereignty is silently still,
In preferring to proffer Providence