Guide to Poetics and Prosody

Dr. John Morillo


Think of the major technical components of poetry as roughly equivalent to the way music is represented on the page, turning something you hear into something you can see.




A rhyme is two or more words or phrases that repeat the same sounds. The matching sounds are usually, but not always, at the end of poetic lines.


As melody is to music, so is RHYME to poetry.  The sounds of vowels are what create most rhymes. Words whose sounds don’t match are (somewhat) like different notes on a musical scale (c, d, e, etc.) .


end rhyme= the ususal form, where the last vowels in different lines are what rhyme


internal rhyme = where vowels rhyme within a single line or within multiple lines


To mark up a poem for rhyme, you assign a single lower-case alphabetical letter, starting with ‘a’ to the sound of the last word in the line.

Whatever the first sound or end rhyme is, mark it ‘a’.  If the next word has the same vowel sound (tree, sea or tree, see), mark the next line ‘a’.  IF the next line has a different vowel sound, mark it ‘b’ Lines with the same end vowel sound, the same rhyme, get marked with the same letter. A series of marked lines will create a rhyme scheme, for example abab or aabbcc


Example: The first four lines of Byron's "She Walks in Beauty":


She walks in beauty like the night        a

Of cloudless climes and starry skies    b

And all that's best of dark and bright    a

Meet in her aspect and her eyes.        b


In this case a and b are both exact or perfect rhymes. Notice that different letters can produce the same vowel sound (skies/eyes). Any pattern of lines that alternate vowel sounds in this way form an example of alternate rhyme.


Named Rhymed groups of lines:


couplet = any pair of rhyming lines

Marked Example: last two lines of My Galley (p. 361):

            Drowned is reason that should me consort     a

And I remain despairing of the port   a


triplet = group of 3 lines with the same rhyme

Marked Example: from The Convergence of the Twain (p. 141): ‘

In a solitude of sea  a

Deep from human vanity  a

And the pride of life that planned her, stilly couches she.  a


Alternate Rhyme = where lines 1 and 3 have one rhyme sound, and 2 and 4 another

Marked Example: from My Papa’s Waltz (p. 269):

The hand that held my wrist               a

Was battered on one knuckle; b         

At every step you missed                    a

My right ear scraped a buckle.            b


Perfect Rhyme, also called exact rhyme, full rhyme = two or more words or phrases share the same last stressed vowel and all sounds following that vowel   examples:  towel / vowel,  aboard / ignored

Note that all of the marked examples above use perfect rhyme. Older poetry used considerably more perfect rhyme than current poetry does.


Slant rhyme, also called half rhyme, off rhyme, near rhyme is when either the stressed vowel or the sounds following it differ and don’t match. Slant rhyme is very prevalent in current poetry.

Examples bite / fire (only the long i sound, the stressed vowel, matches; consonants differ)

courage/bunker  (only match is the UR sound of our and er)

slant rhyme can also use different vowels, but same consonants

Examples: sound, sand;  blade, blood;   food, fade

Consonance = a kind of slant rhyme when there is an identical consonant sound preceded by a different vowel sound.

Examples: home, same   worth, breath   trophy, taffy


Alliteration = connects words that have the same initial consonants, as in taffy, trophy above


Assonance = repeated vowel sounds in a sequence of words with different endings

Example: “The death of the poet was kept from his poems”


Examples of Rhyme types in a complete poem


Examples of rhyme types in a rap, with audio




If rhyme is like melody, meter is the aspect of time, involving rhythm and accents of poetry. Whereas musicians represent time and beat with a time signature, like 4/4, 3/4, or 6/8, readers of poetry record the beat of poetic words by dividing them into kinds of feet based on lengths of syllables, and locations of spoken accents, the bits of words we typically say louder.


Here are the major kinds of POETIC FEET:


A foot is the metrical unit by which a line of poetry is measured. Unlike an inch for measuring distance, a poetic foot measures both length in numbers of syllables, and sound in stressed versus unstressed vowel sounds. One foot can match one single word, or it can span several words. (Capital letters below show which syllable is accented, said louder in relation to other syllables, in most English speech). The names of feet look odd to us because they are all derived from Greek.  For example, ‘dactyl’ means finger in Greek.


iamb         any two syllables, usually a single word but not always, whose accent or stressed sound is on the second syllable. CAPS show the stressed syllable.

                Examples = upON, ariSE, aWAY


trochee     any two syllables, usually a single word but not always, word whose accent is on the first syllable.

                Examples = VIRtue, FURther, LOVEly


anapest     any three syllables, usually a single word but not always, word whose accent is on the third syllable.

                Examples = interVENE, underSTAND,


dactyl        any three syllables, usually a single word but not always, word whose accent is on the first syllable.

                Examples = TENderly, DESperate, HICKory


spondee    any two syllables, sometimes a single word but not always, with strong accent on the first and second syllable.

                Examples (in this case no one word, but a series of words in this line:

                The long day wanes, the slow moon climbs.        The words "day wanes" form a spondee after the iamb “the LONG”.


pyrrhic      any two syllables, often across words, with each syllable unstressed/unaccented


III. Conventions for Marking Meter


Scanscion = measuring the stresses in a line to determine its meter


A poetic line is any group of words preceding the break for the next group. To mark the end of any complete line when quoting poetry without block indenting it, place a space and a / (called a virgule) followed by another space, and after the last word in one line and before the first word in the next line: “Williams’ This Is Just to Say ends, ‘so sweet / and so cold’.”


Caesura = a pause, break, or cut in a poetic line.  It is marked ‖, with 2 parallel vertical lines placed at the break

Medial Caesura = pause in the middle of a line


Hypermetric line = a line of regular, metered verse in which there is one more syllable than the metric pattern requires


Catalectic line = a line of regular, metered verse in which there is one fewer syllable than the metric pattern requires


When we scan a poem we name a complete poetic line by the kind of foot, use the adjective form for the foot, followed by the length of meter.


A line of iambs = iambic meter

A line of trochees = trochaic meter

A line of anapests = anapestic meter

a line of dactyls =    dactylic meter


The number of feet in a given line is maked as a form of the word meter.

dimeter - a 2-foot line

trimeter    a 3-foot line

tetrameter    a 4-foot line

pentameter    a 5-foot line

hexameter        a 6-foot line


consequently a line with 5 iambic feet is written in iambic pentameter


IV. Names of Groups of lines


Stanza = any group of lines forming a unit, offset by space from other such groups of lines.

Groups of stanzas have names all taken from Italian words:


Stanza of 2 lines is a     couplet

Stanza of 3 lines is a     tercet

Stanza of 4 lines is a     quatrain

Stanza of 6 lines is a     sestet

Stanza of 7 lines is a     septet

Stanza of 8 lines is an   octave



V.  How to Scan a poem.

Mark the rhyme, with single alphabets (eg. abab)  and the meter by counting the number of feet, and the kind of feet in the line. 

To start scanning meter always mark the stressed syllables first, with a /  then unstressed syllables with a u . You can also use all CAPS for stressed, lower-case for unstressed if writing on a computer.

Not all lines contain only one kind of foot.  For example, quite often the first foot of an iambic line is reversed, making it a trochee.  When this happens in a poetic line it is called a "trochaic inversion." As you'll see these poetic laws are meant to be interpreted, and they are often bent. 


  My LOVE is OF a BIRTH as RARE               a                       number of feet = 4; type= iambs

As 'TIS, for OBject, STRANGE and HIGH;            b                        number of feet = 4 iambs

It WAS beGOTten BY desPAIR                         a                      number of feet = 4 iambs

UpON ImPOSSiBILiTY.                                      b                        number of feet = 4 iambs


Remarks: the first stanza of Marvell's poem is therefore in iambic tetrameter. The rhyme scheme is called alternate rhyme. The basic foot is the iamb, and there are four of

Them, and four stresses, in each line.  Note how the first line shows iamb can be split across two words, and in line 4 how multiple iambs can occur within one word. In the second line there is a caesura after the word ‘’tis’, and that the comma helps create this pause.


VI. Specialized Rhymes and Rhythms Combining Rhyme and Scansion Patterns


Masculine rhyme or ending – if the last stressed vowel is the last syllable (so both halves of the rhyme pair are stressed (accented) syllable   example:   aRISE / surPRISE

Rising rhythm, rising meter – iambic and anapestic lines, moving from unstressed to stressed sounds

Falling rhythm, falling meter – trochaic and dactylic lines, the reverse of above

Feminine rhyme or ending – if the last stressed vowel is followed by one or more unstressed syllables   example:  RAPidly  /VApidly

 Leonine rhyme – a kind of internal rhyme in which the last word before the caesura (the pause) rhymes with the last word in the line          

Examples of leonine rhyme: The sky. ‖ A plane in the sky.

Seven firmaments of heaven to hell, ‖ 8 Million Stories to tell




Gwynn, R. S. Poetry: A Pocket Anthology. 7th ed. Boston: Longman, 2012.


Hunter, J. Paul, Alison Booth, and Kelly J. Mays, eds. The Norton Introduction to Poetry. 9th ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 2007.


Lennard, John. The Poetry Handbook: A Guide to Reading Poetry for Pleasure and Practical Criticism. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996.


Meyer, Michael, ed. Poetry: An Introduction. 5th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2007.


Rosengarten, Herbert, and Amanda Goldrick-Jones, eds. The Broadview Anthology of Poetry. Ontario: Broadview Press, 1993.