All terms

What is meter?

The rhythmic pattern of a poem.

The Beat Goes On: Understanding Meter in Poetry

At the heart of every poem lies its meter, the rhythmic structure that gives the words their musical quality. Meter is created through the repetition of stressed and unstressed syllables, which combine to form a pattern of beats that can be broken down into units known as feet. Different poetic forms use different meters, and mastering them can unlock new avenues of expression and help you connect with your readers on a deeper level.

One of the most common types of meter is iambic pentameter, which is frequently used in sonnets, plays, and other formal styles of poetry. In iambic pentameter, each line is made up of five feet, each of which contains an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Another popular form is trochaic meter, in which the stressed syllable comes before the unstressed syllable, creating a more marching or stately rhythm.

Whatever meter you choose for your poem, it's important to remember that it should serve the overall tone and message of the work. Too rigid a meter can feel forced or artificial, while too free a meter can feel rambling or disorganized. The key is to find the right balance between structure and spontaneity, so that your words flow naturally and beautifully.

Finding the Rhythm: Exploring Meter in Literature

Meter is a versatile tool for poets and writers when looking to achieve a specific rhythmic effect in their work and has been used in literature for centuries. Here are two examples of its use:

William Shakespeare's Sonnet 18

Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 is written in iambic pentameter, the most recognizable meter in English literature, which creates a natural and effortless rhythm that draws us in and emphasizes the speaker's admiration for his beloved:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:

Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven

Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven is an example of trochaic meter, which gives it a slow, haunting quality that enhances the eerie atmosphere of the poem:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.