Hello All,

I am quite confused by the foot of English metric poetry. I would like to learn how to tell apart the stressed and unstress syllables. Is it according to the pronounciation of each word or what? I know there are many kind of foots, such as Iambic etc.

If a sentence don't follow the foot, how to do? To change another synonymous word to substitute it ? It can be changed the order of words for the concern of foot and rhythm, can't it?
WHAT a BAU- ti- ful GIRL

>What a PRET-ty Girl (right?)
1 / 2 / 1 /2 /2 /1

>1 /2/1/2 ? (1=the stressed, 2=unstressed , I capitalized the stressed syllables)

.I was taught that I should accentuate words, such as noun, verb, adj, adv. and the words such as art. , prep, conj. are on the contrary in a sentence. I would like to learn whether it is the same in the lines of a poem or not.
eg.WHAT a BAU- ti- ful GIRL

Hope you can help me out. Thanks a million!
1 2
It is not so simple as that, Flora, but you have the general idea. Good poetry follows natural word stress and sentence stress (I use 'u' for unstressed and '/' for stressed syllables)--

Trees, by Joyce Kilmer

1 I think that I shall never see u/u/u/u/
2 A poem as lovely as a tree. u/u/u/u/

3 A tree whose hungry mouth is prest u/u/u/u/
4 Against the earth's sweet flowing bre ast; u/u/u/u/

5 A tree that looks at God all day,
6 And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

7 A tree that may in Summer wear
8 A nest of robins in her hair;

9 Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
10 Who intimately lives with rain.

11 Poems are made by fools like me,
12 But only God can make a tree

Generally, nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs do pick up stress-- those are the words that communicate-- while function words (prepositions, conjunctions, articles, etc) are seldom stressed; but much depends on context. And yes, a poet does what s/he has to do to make rhythm and rhyme and meaning and effect come together in a good poem. The poet's ability to know what is possible with vocabulary, word order and imagery is what detemines his/her artistry.

(PS: Oh, how ridiculous-- this website thinks the word 'bre ast' is obscene!)
Mister Micawber1 I think that I shall never see u/ u/ u/ u/
Thank you a lot for your quick response and I do enjoy the poem -Three I read it when I was teenager. Yesterday once more. :-)

But I don't really understand what you explain.

I U, think [/],thatU, I [/], shall U, never [/], see U

Hm, Why must I unstressed the first word of " I" and stressed the second " I " in above sentence?

What is the rule for the stressed and unstressed syllables?

And If there not a set rule, how can I tell apart the blank verse and metric poetry?
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(Mr M forgot to log in again!-- MM)

It is a matter of natural sentence flow and stress for meaning. Let's write it like a prose sentence:

I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.

Spoken in conversation, sentences carry several levels of stress, not just stressed and unstressed. This sentence would probably be uttered with primary (main) stress on poem and tree-- these are the core words of meaning here-- and with secondary stress on lovely-- this adjective essentially defines the relationship between poem and tree. Below that would be tertiary stress on the simple subject (I), the simple predicate (see) and the negative word (never)-- notice that all of these stresses appear in the dependent clause, not in the matrix clause (I think), which only colours the core statement about poems and trees. (I should include a caveat that others may find differing stress patterns, and different intent would also produce others)

Trees is written in iambics, which as you probably know is a common rhythm of spoken English. To a certain extent, we tend to talk that way, and iambic stress patterns will impose themselves on our utterances. It is probably a circular phenomenon, actually-- we tend to speak in iambics, and so sentence structure and patterns of idioms and stock phrases are therefore formed and preserved in iambics.

Blank verse is iambic; it just does not rhyme. I think you mean free verse. Free verse depends on rhythms set, not by syllables, but by the cadence of phrases, images, and syntax. It should be relatively easy for you to learn to feel the difference if you recite aloud (as you should all poetry) this excerpt from Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach:

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; -on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch'd land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

And compare it with some of Thomas Grey's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard:

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds:

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tower
The moping owl does to the moon complain
Of such as, wandering near her secret bower,
Molest her ancient solitary reign.

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude Forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

Now, which one is free verse, and which is in metric verse?
Dear Mr Micawber,

Thanks for your kind response again and the introduction of the knowledge of blank verse and free verse. I think I know how to tell them apart a little bit now not still not sure...

The first -Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach is metric verse and the second- Elegy Written in a Country Churchyardis free verse. Am I right?

The sea is calm to-night u/u/u/ (u=unstressed, /=stressed)

But I still don't really understand of your explanation about the foot. Do you mean there are several levels of stressed and unstressed in a SENTENCE which I can understand but only a level of stressed syllables and unstressed syllables which alterate them with each other in a iambic LINE?

By the way, what is the difference among the words of poem, verse and lines? Thank you again!

Looking forward to your response again!
Oops! it's vice versa, Flora--

Dover Beach

The sea is calm to-night. u/u/ / /
The tide is full, the moon lies fair u/u/ u/ / /
Upon the straits; -on the French coast the light u/u/ uu/ /u/
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand, /uu/ u/u/u/
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay. /uuu/ /uu/u/

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard:

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, u/u/u/u/u/
The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea, u/u/u/u/u/
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way, u/u/u/u/u/
And leaves the world to darkness and to me. u/u/u/u/u/

Do you mean there are several levels of stressed and unstressed in a SENTENCE which I can understand but only a level of stressed syllables and unstressed syllables which alterate them with each other in a iambic LINE?
Sort of. What I want to say is that normal spoken English has several levels of stress; poetic metrics only considers two levels (stressed and unstressed). This difference is what allows the good poet to write poems which are metrically accurate yet follow the natural flow of speech. Gray's Elegy is not at all meant to be read or recited in a sing-song fashion, stressing each alternate syllable; but the stresses in his metrics follow 'along' or 'beneath' or 'parallel to' the natural rhythms of speech.

What is the difference among the words of poem, verse and lines? Thank you again!

Poem is the complete piece. I usually use verse to mean 'metrical poem', or one stanza (line grouping) of a poem, but in blank verse it means the writing style as a whole, whether poem, stanza or line. Line of course is one horizontal row of words or a reasonable facsimile thereof.
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It seemed me to be wrong, but I didn't dare to correct you... Emotion: embarrassedEmotion: smile
Maybe you should go onto:

Poetic Meter and Scansion (Darrin McGraw, UCLA): includes examples of a number of different metric forms
Rhythm and Meter in English Poetry (Harry Rusche, Emory University)
Prose and Verse Criticism of Poetry (University of Toronto); see especially lines 337-383 of Alexander Pope's poetic Essay on Criticism, in which he illustrates how many different metric effects can be achieved with iambic pentameter verse

It is pretty good, well if you haven't found yet anywhere to learn....
identify the meter and foot of the tree by joyce kilmer
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