Lesson 3: Scanning

Discussion in 'Poetry' started by LaRaine_Raven, Feb 18, 2008.

  1. LaRaine_Raven

    LaRaine_Raven Member

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    Scanning Poetry

    1. Read the poem aloud. As you read, listen for a natural emphasis in the rhythm of the line. The syllables you emphasize will be those that you'll mark with a / (indicating a stressed syllable).
    2. As you read the poem aloud, try tapping your foot or pounding your hand on a desk when you hear the accented syllables. This will help you to hear the rhythm.

    If you can't hear the rhythm, try reading the words into a tape recorder and listening to them. You can also try reading the lines to someone and asking that person to mark the stressed syllables, or, conversely, ask someone to read the poem and mark the lines as you listen to them.

    3. Read more than one line. Sometimes the first line of a poem may have spondees or other types of feet that will throw off your reading. Remember, you are looking for the predominant metrical pattern of the piece.

    4. Mark the stressed syllables first, and then go back and mark the unstressed syllables. The mark for these is a breve, which looks like a sideways parenthesis mark or shallow "u."

    5. If you are not sure which syllables should be stressed, look for two- and three-syllable words in a line and pronounce them as you would normally pronounce them. These will help you to determine the stressed syllables in a line. For example, you'd say aBOVE, not Above, MURmuring, not murMURing or murmurING.

    6. Try typing out the lines and breaking the words into syllables so that you can see them individually instead of as part of a word.

    The curfew tolls the knell of parting day

    The cur few tolls the knell of part ing day

    This will make the process of finding the stressed syllables easier.

    7. Once you have marked the lines for stressed and unstressed syllables, divide the lines according to the kinds of feet. (Use a larger / slash mark or circle the feet.):

    unstressed STRESSED = iambic (sounds like da-DUM: aBOVE, beLOW)

    Example: The CURfew TOLLS the KNELL of PARTing DAY

    STRESSED unstressed = trochaic (sounds like DA-dum: CAREless CHILDren)

    unstressed unstressed STRESSED = anapestic (galloping meter; sounds like da-da-DUM: by reQUEST )

    STRESSED unstressed unstressed = dactylic (DA-dum-dum: MUR-mur-ing A-li-en; JU-li-et CAP-u-let )

    8. Count up the number of feet.

    Monometer = one foot

    Dimeter = two feet

    Trimeter = three feet

    Tetrameter = four feet

    Pentameter = five feet

    Hexameter = six feet

    Heptameter or the septenary = seven feet

    Octameter = eight feet

    9. Put the type of foot (iambic, trochaic, anapestic, dactylic) together with the number of feet, and you've identified the meter.


    Meter, the repetition of an accentual pattern, is the most important sound feature of traditional poetry. Lines are made up of feet, usually two-syllable (duple feet) or three-syllable (triple feet).

    The feet are named according to the pattern of stressed (accented) or unstressed (unaccented) syllables in them. The first word given is the adjective form and the second is the noun.

    Iambic (iamb) an unstressed and then a stressed syllable

    trochaic (trochee) a stressed and then an unstressed syllable

    anapestic (anapest) two unstressed and then one stressed syllable

    dactyllic (dactyl) a stressed and then two unstressed syllables

    spondaic (spondee) two stressed syllables

    pyrrhic two unstressed syllables

    Lines are named according to the number of feet they contain:

    monometer one foot

    dimeter two feet

    trimeter three feet

    tetrameter four feet

    pentameter five feet

    hexameter six feet

    heptameter seven feet

    octameter eight feet


    Rhyme is the repetition of the accented vowel plus any sounds following it.

    End rhyme Hickory Dickory dock / The mouse ran up the clock

    True rhyme true/blue

    Slant rhyme alcohol/pearl

    Consonance gun/gone

    Exact rhyme we/we

    Eye rhyme flood/good

    Internal rhyme Once upon a midnight dreary while I pondered weak and


    Interlocking rhyme Whose woods these are I think I know.

    His house is in the village though;

    He will not see me stopping here

    To watch his woods fill up with snow.

    My little horse must think it queer

    To stop without a farmhouse near

    Between the woods and frozen lake

    The darkest evening of the year.

    Stanzaic Patterns

    You need to learn the names of the various groups of lines. There are also specialized stanzaic patterns, many of them associated with the name of the person who first used them.

    couplet Two lines.

    tercet or triplet Three lines.

    quatrain Four lines.

    sestet Six lines.

    octet Eight lines.

    blank verse Unrhymed iambic pentameter

    heroic couplet Rhymed, closed, iambic pentameter couplets.

    sonnet Fourteen lines in iambic pentameter with one of several rhyme schemes. There are four types:

    Elizabethan or Shakespearean or English sonnet: rhymes ababcdcdefefgg, has three quatrains and a couplet. The three quatrains present the problem and the couplet makes a comment on it.

    Italian or Petrachan sonnet: rhymes abbaabba in the octet with some combination of cd and e in the sestet. The octet presents the problem and the sestet resolves the problem.

    Spenserian sonnet: Edmund Spenser, the best rhymer in English poetry, created this sonnet to increase the difficulty of the rhyming. The rhyme scheme is ababbcbccdcdee.

    Irregular sonnet: This one uses any rhyme scheme the poet wants.

    ballad stanza A quatrain rhyming abcb with the odd-numbered lines in iambic tetrameter and the even numbered lines in iambic trimeter.

    Spenserian stanza Edmund Spenser created this form, which he employed in The Faerie Queen, but many other poets have since used it. It uses a nine-line stanza. The first eight lines are in iambic pentameter but the ninth line is an alexandrine, a six-foot line. The rhyme scheme is ababbcbcc.

    terza rima Tercets rhyming aba, bcb, cdc, etc., with interlocking rhyme.

    Chaucerian stanza or rhyme royal This is a seven-line stanza which Chaucer used in Troilus and Criseyde. It is in iambic pentameter and rhymes ababbcc.

    Burns stanza A six-line stanza rhyming aaabab created by Robert Burns. Lines l, 2, 3, and 5 are tetrameter and lines 4 and 6 are dimeter.


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