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BASIC GUIDE TO ENGLISH PROSODY

Sources: B&P Brooks, Cleanth, and Robert Penn. Understanding Poetry. London: Holt, Rinehart & Wilson,
1968.

P&B Preminger, Alex, and T. V. F. Brogan. The New Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993. Shapiro, K. A Prosody Handbook. New York: Harper & Row 1965 Wales, Katie. A Dictionary of Stylistics. London: Longman, 1991.

FIRST DEFINITIONS

Prosody: the study of the laws that govern the ways in which the regular patterns of sound and beats in poetry are arranged (B&W ) ³the traditional term for what is now called verse theory, which is the study of verseform, i.e. structures of sound patterning in verse, chiefly meter, rhyme, and stanza´ (P&B 982)

Rhythm: - the quality of sounds or movements happening at regular periods of time - a regularly patterned flow of sounds or of movements (Brooks & Warren 493) Metre: arrangement of sound elements into strong and weak beats or accents. We say that a work is written in verse, that is, in meter, when the rhythm has been regularized and systematized (B&W 494)

We examine regularized rhythm both at the level of the verse line, and at the level of groups of lines or stanzas

/ two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable: µintervene¶ Dactyl (dactylic): / .syllabic verse : rhythm based on the number of syllables per line (as in French prosody) ² free verse : rhythm provided without a fixed number of stresses and syllables ACCENTUAL-SYLLABIC VERSE Its pattern is based not only on the number of syllables in a line. acute accent indicates stressed syllable) Iamb (iambic) : / ../ a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable: µonly¶ Spondee (spondaic): / / two stressed syllables : Pyrrhus (pyrrhic): / .means unaccented syllable. Kinds of feet (a dash . but also on the relation to each other of the accented and unaccented syllables (B&W 496) We count stresses and syllables Its basic unit of measure is a combination of syllables and stresses (or in other words.stress or accentual verse : rhythm based on the regular number of stresses in a line ./ one unstressed followed by a stressed syllable: µalone¶ Trochee (trochaic): / .RHYTHM IN VERSE LINES Kinds of metre in English: . of unaccented or less accented syllables and stressed or more stressed syllables)./ two unstressed syllables Anapest (anapestic) : / . Each unit is called a foot./ one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables: µhappily¶ ..accentual-syllabic verse : rhythm based on the regular number of stresses and syllables in a line (the standard versification in English poetry since the 14th century) ..

./ .Line lengths one foot -> monometer two feet -> dimeter three feet -> trimeter four feet -> tetrameter five feet -> pentameter six feet -> hexameter (also alexandrine) seven feet -> heptameter Line lengths combined with the dominant kind of feet constitute line metrical patterns that characterise a kind of verse line: Examples of line metrical patterns: iambic trimeter: / ./ Examples: ³My mother thinks us long away. . (scanned as µMy mó/ther thínks/ us lóng/ awáy/¶ -> iambic tetrameter) µTis time the field were mown... (A.. ( -> iambic trimeter) .../ ./ ./ . µTis time the field were mown. Housman) ³My mother thinks us long away....../ anapestic tetrameter: / ./ .

lines have a fixed number of stresses (natural speech-stresses) and a variable number of syllables) . as Hokpins called it) of accentual-syllabic verse measures by feet of two or three syllables (P&B 1209 and 1101) ACCENTUAL VERSE Its pattern is based on count of stresses disregarding the number of syllables per line. This rhythm ³springs´ loose of the common rhythm (³running´ rhythm.1889) ³measured by feet of from one to four syllables. It has one stress. etc. which falls « if there are more [than one syllable] on the first´ (Hopkins. though not raised to a metrical principle.³It was night in the lonesome October´ (Poe¶s ³Ulalume´) (scanned as ³It was níght / in the lóne/some Octóber/ -> anapestic trimeter ³This is the forest primeval. nursery rhymes. Evangeline) (scanned as ³Thís is the/ fórest pri/méval. and for particular effects any number of weak or slack syllables may be used. [it] consists in scanning by accents or stresses alone´ (Hopkins) -> thus he envisaged sprung rhythm ³as a pure-stress metre « whose stresses are sense-stresses or rather than metrical. Usually. expressive rather than purely rhythmic. Longfellow. the/ múrmuring/ pínes and the/ hémlocks´ -> dactylic hexameter SPRUNG RHTYHM A term coined by Gerard Manly Hopkins (1844 . Sprung rhythm also shares with [Old English] verse a cultivation of alliteration. W. internal rhyme)´ (P&B 1209) For Hopkins. the murmuring pines and the hemlocks´ (H. in P&B 1208-9) ³To speak shortly. regularly. and other echoic patterns (assonance. sprung rhythm is the rhythm of natural speech in everyday language. prose.

Coleridge¶s Christabel. the line lengths. in French prosody. and the distribution of pauses fit the sense at every point. popular song. a line of 12 syllables) Examples of syllabic verse Robert Bridges New Verse (1925). Eliot¶s Four Quartets (P&B 7) SYLLABIC VERSE Its pattern is based on syllable count. A typical free verse poem shows no formal prosodic devices. Standard measure in French prosody and in Spanish prosody (until the rise of free verse) ³It is very doubtful that verse lines regulated by nothing more than identity of numbers of syllables would be perceived by auditors as verse. and is unrhymed throughout. jingles). S. in P&B 1249) Line lengths octosyllable decasyllable alexandrine: 12 syllables (a ³hexameter´ in English accentual-syllabic verse. And yet it has form: the arrangement of syllables and words. for there would be nothing to mark them as such except for end-of-line pauses in performance´ (Brogan. hymns. in S.Used in folkverse (nursery rhymes. T. The Testament of Beauty (1929) Marianne Moore Dylan Thomas FREE VERSE difficult to define. slogans. . college chants. The number of syllables per line is fixed. It is as difficult to scan as prose. in T. while the number of stresses is variable. balldas.

and usually has no rhyme.´ (John Keats) SCANSION To scan a poem. etc. When it does. trochaic.While accentual-syllabic verse regulates both stresses and syllables in a line..not a metrical unit (B&W 511). and health and quiet breathing .perceive the dominant rhythm (iambic.. lines are called end-stopped lines.) ³take the poem as a whole and not merely a line at a time. but still will keep A bower of quiet for us. its own metre and rhythm. Example: ³A thing of beauty | is a joy forever:´ (John Keats). Caesura The caesura is an internal pause marking the end of a sense unit .. Always one should read a . get a sense of the basic pattern. for the lines may not be metrically identical . Its loveliness increases.. spondaic. free verse regulates neither (P&B 1249) Every line has its own length. and a sleep Full of sweet dreams.. Enjambment Also called ³run-on lines´: when the sense unit does not coincide with the end of the verse line. is to measure its rhythm in order to analyse its meter by marking the rhythmical or metrical units in the line 1. or a line. it will never Pass into nothingness. Examples in lines 2 onwards showing different degrees of enjambment: ³A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

observe the caesura or internal pause marking the end of a sense unit . Note that the caesura may occur in the middle of a foot: ³Its lóve/linéss/ incréa/ses | ít / will néver´ (J.. and therefore feet do not necessarily correspond to word divisions (see µlonesome¶ in ³It was níght / in the lóne/some . A good working guidline. a dominant iambic rhythm will lead you to think of two-syllable feet. and count the number of syllables 3... 7.´ 3b.try to mark the foot divisions of the line metrical pattern that will best fit the dominant rhythm... Never impose a preconceived hypothesized metrical pattern on the natural stresses of the line. ³meter cannot violate the natural accentuation of a word´ (B&W 498). but not an absolute principle.when marking foot divisions..examine and explain the effect of regularities and irregularities. not all accents in a line have equal force.mark the natural accents in each the line. For instance. number of accents. to establish the initial acquaintance´ (B&W 505) 2. and those that are not.. µprimeval¶ is naturally accented µpriméval¶. or nine) syllables. is that unimportant words receive less accent while key words in the line are accented (B&W 499) 4.´ 3c. (For instance.. at least several times. take into account accepted or expected variations or licences from the metrical pattern (see corresponding section) 5.. but what matters is the contrast between less accented syllables and more stressed syllables 3d. you can try the pattern of iambic pentameter) 3a. and number of syllables. Explain how variations ³give expression and vitality to the verse´ (B&P 53) Variations or licences . take into account sound and not writing governs rhythm.. You can¶t accent it as µprímeval¶ is you are trying an iambic pentameter pattern in ³This ís / the fór/est prí/meval .poem aloud. Keats) 6. if you count five stresses and ten (or eleven. both those changes that are accepted or expected.observe the enjambment(s) or run-on lines.not a metrical unit (B&W 511).

¶ He was a joiner.g. little wife That I made of polshed oak. lít/tle lífe / Third line: Hé was / a jóin/er of víl/lage lífe Lines with less syllables: (with defetive feet) Example: ³Long for me the rick will wait And long will wait the fold. She came of borough folk. has one unstressed syllable missing.In the pronunciation of words and phrases: elision: words pronounced with one syllable less: µheaven¶ diphtongs may count as one vowel: µoil¶ Inversion of first feet: this is very common: e. The line is scanned ³ ^ Lóng/ for mé/ the ´rick/ will wáit/´ A defecive foot can occur in mid line: . trochaic instead of iambic Example: ³ µSee.´ (³The Workbox´) First line: Sée hére¶s / the wók/box. And long will standthe empty plate And dinner will be cold´ (Housman) The first line has one syllable less because the first foot is µdefective¶. here¶s the workbox. of village life.

come Lammastide. it is right´ (W.³Speech after long silence. or feet with extra syllables may occur before the caesura .) Extra syllable in the first foot: Example: ³I wish you strength to bring you pride. At racing on the green´ (A. and is scanned ³ And a lóve / to kéep / you cléan/´: the first feet is an anapest. Extra syllable in Example: Hé was / a jóin/er of víl/lage lífe (third foot is anapest) Caesura defective feet.´ . And a love to keep you clean And I wish you luck. ít/ is ríght / Lines with extra syllables Feminine ending: final foot has an extra syllable at the end ³It was níght / in the lóne/some Octóber/ (last foot is an anapest with an extra syllable: .. ³After Long Silence´) Spéech af/ter lóng/ ^sí/lence.B. Yeats. Housman) The second line has seven syllables.

perfect rhyme = back .buckC V C (also called frame rhyme or pararhyme) (Not to be confused with ³rima consonante´ in Spanish. true rhyme. ³imperfect rhyme´. end rhyme. can occur in two consecutive lines Forms (in English) rhyme.rat C V C consonance = back.neck C V C back . ³slant rhyme´.pack C VC near rhyme = repetitions of vowels or consonants at line end not conforming to the strict definition of rhyme are called ³near rhyme´. . ³half rhyme´. ³oblique rhyme´. rhyme is the repetition of two syllables at the end of a line with the same medial vowel(s) and final consonant(s) and with different initial consonant(s) ³The equivalence of the rhymed syllables or words on the phonic level implies a relation of likeness or difference on the semantic level´ ³sound similiarty [ is a ] means to semantic and structural ends´ (P&B 1053) ³internal rhyme´ when one of the rhyming words is not at the end of the line. ³partial rhyme´ assonance = back .RHYME In English use. full rhyme.

Consonance is.¶where st or r endsevery stressed syllable´ (P&W 236-7) reverse rhyme = back .plough . strictly speaking.batCVC : eye rhyme (visual rhyme) = cough . ³the repetition of the sound of a final consonant or consonant cluster in stressed. unrhymed syllables near enough to each other for the echo to affect the ear.bat CV C rich rhyme = bat . as in Pope¶s µAh ne¶er so dire a Thirst of Glory boast.

trimeter. 3. etc.g. c d c . closed couplet: the syntactical unit comes to an end at the end of the second line. In a tail-rhyme stanza (also called a tailrhymed stanza). tetrameter.STANZA FORMS Source: K. four lines rhyming a b b a envelope. pentameter Number of lines 2 couplet rhyme scheme: a a open couplet: when the syntactical unit carries over into the first line of the next couplet and there is no heavy pause at the end of its second line. or indefinite number .rhyme pattern or scheme: combinations of rhymes.line length: e. 4. enclosed or enclosing rhyme : a b b a cross or alternate rhyme: a b a b tail rhyme or tailed rhyme a verse form in which rhymed lines such as couplets or triplets are followed by a tail²a line of different (usually shorter) length that does not rhyme with the couplet or triplet. the tails rhyme with each other (Encyclopaedia Britannica) . HEROIC COUPLET: when lines are iambic pentameters (It is also used for the conclusion of other stanzas) 3 tercet triplet: a a a TERZA RIMA : a b a. and there is a heavy pause or a full stop. b c b. e.number of lines: 2.g. Shapiro A Prosody Handbook Harper & Row 1965 We can identify stanzas by looking at three elements: .

pentameter or tetrameter brace octave: any octave in which brace rhyme (a b b a) is used Triolet: a b a a a b a b .g. the ninth line. alternate rhyme Brace stanza: a b b a. 2 for dimeter) 6 sixain STAVE OF SIX : a b a b c c : iambic pentameter or tetrameter (quatrain + couplet) SESTINA: six pentameter sixains that repeat. 1596) 14 Sonnet (see later) . the end words of the lines of the first sixain (e. a hexameter Created by Edmund Spenser in The Faerie Queene (1590. 3 for trimeter) Long ballad: a b a b . a a b b . 4th and 7th lines are identical. iambic pentameter 9 SPENSERIAN STANZA: a b a b b c b c c . all lines are iambic terameters Short ballad: 3x 3a 4x 3a. all lines iambic pentameter. first eight lines are pentameters. iambic rhythm (4 is for tetrameter. x a x a . Variants have hexameters 8 octave common octave: a b a b c d c d . Sir Philip Sidney) tail-rhyme stanza: a a b c c b.4 quatrain ballad stanza: 4a 3b 4a 3b . 1st. pentameters. anapestic rhythm (3 is for trimeter. brace rhyme 5 cinquain LIMERICK: 3a 3a 2b 2b 3a. all lines are iambic pentameter. each in a different and predetermined pattern. 4x 3a 4x 3a . with line b having different length 7 septet RHYME ROYAL (Chaucerian stanza): a b a b b c c . iambic rhythm HEROIC QUATRAIN : a b a b . x a x a x b x b. as are lines 2 and 8 OTTAVA RIMA: a b a b a b c c.

1st line is repeated in line 6 and 12. the ³heroic´ line. in his translation of Aeneid [?1539-46]. eleven and twelve lines are rare and have no familiar name. g g BLANK VERSE: unlimited succession of unrhymed iambic pentameters Imported from Italy. or unrhymed quatrain in which the first two lines are longer than the third and fourth PINDARIC ode: consists of three stanzas. and 3rd line is repeated inline 9 and 15. Elizabethan or Shakespearean sonnet: three heroic quatrains + couplet A common rhyme scheme is: a b a b. a b b a. c d e. being the first two identical in pattern except for the rhyme sounds. c d c. is indeterminate in form Thesonnet ITALIAN or PETRARCHAN sonnet: a b b a. the line of epic. Some have the sestet ending in a couplet. where in the Renaissance it was developed as an equivalent of the Classical hexameter. a b b a. In English. c d e . Theode: difficult definition = poem of some length which does not follow any of the other conventional forms Stanzaic odes: follow a fixed stanzaic pattern HORATIAN ode: a a b b. d c d 14 lines: one octave + one sestet. both 1st and 3rd lines are repeated in the final 4 lines. c d c d. ENGLISH. Early of Surrey. µantistrophe¶ and µepode¶. Villanelle: usually 19 lines in tercets and two rhymes. µstrophe¶. fFirst used by Henry Howard. Cowleian ode: named after Abraham Cowley. e f e f. . a b b a.Stanzas of ten. and the third stanza is almost diferent from the other two.

sustaiend. and the staple meter of English dramatic verse (first used in Gorboduc [1561]) Genres: suited to long works. articulation. which makes it closer to speech . Omission of rhyme promoted continuity.A major versification form in English narrative and lyrical verse (especially since John Milton). especially epic and drama Verse without rhyme and without limited number of lines allows for expressing an idea at whatever length is required. and relatively natural word order (P&B 138) Characterised by rhythmic and syntactic flexibility. enjamment.

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