Quick Guide to Prosody


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.


I. RHYME involves matching sounds of words. As melody is to music, so is RHYME to poetry. The sounds of vowels are

what create most rhymes. Because you can hear the words that match they have sounds that are (somewhat) analagous to

different notes (do, re, mi etc.) .

To scan a poem for ryhme, you assign a single 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 the same letter.


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 rhymes. Any pattern of lines that alternate in this way form an example of alternate rhyme.

When any line rhymes with the very next line, that is called a couplet. If three lines in a row rhyme, that's a triplet.



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.


Here are the major kinds of POETIC FEET:

A foot can match one single word, or it can span several words.


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

Example = upon, arise


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

Example = virtue, further


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

Example = intervene


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

Example = tenderly


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

Example (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.

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


To name the kind of foot, use the adjective form of these words.

A line of iambs = iambic

A line of trochees = trochaic

A line of anapests = anapestic

a line of dactyls = dactylic

a line of spondees = spondaic


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


III. Names of Groups of lines

Any group of lines forming a unit is a stanza.

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



IV. 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.

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.


Iamb = / (second syllable gets the accent)

/ / / /

My love is of a birth as rare a number of feet = 4 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 basic foot is the iamb, and there are four of

them 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.