In putting words together the poet gives them a particular form or design. A poem, therefore, must be built - before it can be felt by the reader or listener. The simplest unit in its design is the foot, a group of two or three syllables. Ancient poetry had more than twenty different types of feet, but most English verse consists of four kinds. In the order of popularity, they are as follows: u=unstress '=stress
1. The iambic foot:u' This consists of a weak (or unstressed) syllable followed by a strongly accented one. It is sometimes called the "skipping" foot: ta-dum, ta-dum. An iambic foot is illustrated by such words as afraid, begin, hello, receive, because. The following, by Robert Frost, is an iambic line of verse:
u ' u ' u ' u ' Whose woods / these are / I think /I know
2. The trochaic foot.'u This is the exact opposite of the iambic foot; it consists of a strongly accented syllable followed by a weak (or unstressed) one. (' u) It is known as the "marching" foot: dum-ta, dum-ta. A trochaic foot is illustrated by such words as weary, willow, twi kle, flowing, silent. The following, by Longfellow, is an example of trochaic verse:
' u ' u ' u ' u Then the / little / Hia / watha
3. The dactylic foot.'uu This consists of three syllables: a strongly stressed syllable followed by two weak ones. It is a "waltzing" foot, and the rhythm is illustrated by such words as fortunate, Saturday, daffodil, murmuring, rhapsody. The following, by Thomas Hood, illustrates a dactylic line:
' u u ' u u Take her up / tenderly
4. The anapestic foot.uu' This is another foot of three syllables. A "galloping" foot, it begins with two rapid unaccented syllables and ends on a strong down-beat. The anapest is illustrated by such words as interrupt, contradict, engineer, masquerade, Galilee. The following, from Browning's "How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix," is an example of a speedy anapestic line:
u u ' u u ' u u ' u u ' Till at length / into Aix / Roland gal / loped and stood.
THE METERFeet are combined to make a line of poetry. The length, or measure, of a line is called the meter. The shortest line of poetry contains only one foot (monometer); one of the longest (octameter) consists of eight feet. Perhaps the best known is the five-foot line (pentameter), usually with an iambic beat and therefore called iambic pentameter. It is easily recognized in the plays of Shakespeare, the blank verse of John Milton, and the unrhymed narratives of Robert Frost.
THE STANZAEvery poem has a pattern, and it is the line which determines the pattern. The foot is the unit of the line; the measured line is the unit of the verse, or stanza; the stanza is the unit that shapes the poem as a whole.
The shortest stanza is the couplet. As the name implies, it consists of two lines. Sometimes a couplet may form a complete poem, as, for example, this German proverb:
Hunger is the best of cooks!
The three-line stanza is sometimes called a triplet, sometimes a tercet. Many poems are written in this form, such as the Latin epigram:
The foolish youth. But when he sighs
Ali, I know nothing," he is wise.
Sometimes the three-line stanza is so arranged that the first and third line of each tercet is rhymed, and the end-word of the second (unrhymed) line is carried over as the first and third rhymes of the stanza following. This stanza form is known as terza rima (literally "third rhyme"). It is the basis of Dante's Divine Comedy and Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind," which begins:
Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
The wingéd seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill
What I should give my love -
It answered me with silence,
Nor on what seas shall be thy fate;
I only know it shall be high,
I only know it shall be great.
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
And small blue violets come between;
When merry birds sing on boughs green,
And rills, as soon as born, must sing.
Moves on: nor all your piety nor wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.
Let us attempt the definition and exemplification of major verse forms in English Poetry. First is the couplet-two lines linked by rhyme; since Chaucer's time it has been used most frequently either in tetrameter or pentameter lines. The following lines from Milton's L:Allegro illustrate iambic tetrameter couplets, sometimes called octosyllabics:
If Jonson's learned sock be on,
Or sweetest Shakespeare fancy's child
Warble his native wood-notes wild,
And ever against eating cares, 5
Lap me in soft Lydian airs,
Married to immortal verse
Such as the meeting soul may pierce
In notes, with many a winding bout
Of linked sweetness long drawn out. 10
Fed on the lawns, and in the forest rang'd;
Without unspotted, innocent within,
She fear'd no danger, for she knew no sin.
Yet had she oft been chas'd with horns and bounds
And Scythian shafts; and many winged wounds
Aim'd at her heart; was often forc'd to fly,
And doom'd to death, tho' fated not to die.
Since other verse forms involve stanzas, let us first define a stanza as a group of lines arranged according to any given metrical and rhyme scheme and forming a unit of a poem. Among the simplest of stanzas is the tercet, a stanza of three lines bound by rhyme: the poet is free in his choice of line length. Upon Julia's Clothes by Robert Herrick is an example:
Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.
Next, when I cast mine eyes and see
And a statue watches it from the square,
And this story of both do our townsmen tell.
Ages ago, a lady there,
The bridesmaids' prattle around her ceased;
They felt by its beats her heart expand- 10
And he stoppeth one of three.
By thy long gray beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp'st thou me?
Other frequent quatrain rhyme schemes are abab, abba, and aaba.
Five- and six-line stanzas-the quintet and sestet-too, exist in a variety of both line lengths and rhyme schemes. Among the more common rhyme schemes are abccb, ababb, aabbb, aabcdd, ababab, and ababcc. Of seven-line stanzas-the septet-the most favored is "rime royal," supposedly first used by King James I of Scotland; in the hands of Geoffrey Chaucer, it became a superb vehicle for narrative poetry. The lines are iambic pentameter and the rhyme scheme is ababbcc. The opening stanza of William Shakespeare's The Rape of Lucrece supplies an example:
Borne by the trustless wings of false desire,
Lust-breathed Tarquin leaves the Roman host
And to Collatium bears the lightless fire
Which, in pale embers hid, lurks to aspire
And girdle with embracing flames the waist
Of Collatine's fair love, Lucrece the chaste.
And must have meals, at least one meal a day;
He cannot live, like woodcocks, upon suction,
But, like the shark and tiger, must have prey;
Although his anatomical construction
Bears vegetables, in a grumbling way,
Your labouring people think beyond all question
Beef, veal, and mutton, better for digestion.
Directs her course unto one certaine cost,
Is met of many a counter winde and tyde,
With which her wing6d speed is let and crost,
And she her selfe in stonne surges tost;
Yet making many a borde, and many a bay,
Still winnetb way, ne bath her compass lost:
Right so it fares with me in this long way,
Whose course is often stayd, yet never is astray.