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# College English -- Help!

Fri 12 Nov, 2010 12:39 pm
I'm in dual enrollment my senior year and I teach myself my material, but I came across something that my text just doesn't explain clearly. Can you clearly explain to me any of the following:

Name of Foot Meter Sample
iamb u/ begin
troche /u farmer
anapest uu/ in the back
dactyl /uu butterfly
spondee // great Dane

Number of Feet Name
Two Dimeter (usually as a variation)
Three Trimeter (usually as a variation)
Four Tetrameter (very common)
Five Pentameter (very common)
Six Hexameter (rare)
seven Heptameter (very rare)
eight Octameter (extremely rare)

Right now, I understand is that '/' is a stressed syllable and the 'u' is an unstressed. I noticed I stress syllables that my readings consider unstressed syllables, and even saying them out loud doesn't help. For example, I don't understand how 'far' in 'farmer' is stressed. To me, farmer sounds monotonous and unstressed. I also understand that iamb is positive, troche is somber, anapest is read quickly, dactyl is only metric variation, and spondee is always used for metric variation. Can you explain it more in depth?
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joefromchicago

1
Fri 12 Nov, 2010 03:36 pm
@Subliminal0,
Subliminal0 wrote:
I noticed I stress syllables that my readings consider unstressed syllables, and even saying them out loud doesn't help. For example, I don't understand how 'far' in 'farmer' is stressed. To me, farmer sounds monotonous and unstressed.

Well, you wouldn't say "far-MER," would you? Where would you put the stress in "the farmer in the dell?"

Subliminal0 wrote:
I also understand that iamb is positive, troche is somber, anapest is read quickly, dactyl is only metric variation, and spondee is always used for metric variation. Can you explain it more in depth?

I can't. I've never heard of that before. Iambic meter is common in English, even though English words are typically stressed on the first syllable. That's because unstressed one-syllable words often precede words with the accent on the first syllable. English words, in other words, are generally trochaic, English sentences are generally iambic. Also, trochaic verse, if used consistently, results in an unaccented syllable at the end of the line, which requires a comparatively difficult "feminine" rhyme. Trochaic verse, therefore, often ends in a single accented foot to produce a "masculine" rhyme.

There are, consequently, many poems written in iambic meter and relatively few in trochaic, but there is no "mood" that is common to all poetry written in a certain meter. Sonnets, for instance, are generally written in iambic pentameter, but not all sonnets are "positive." Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven is written primarily in trochaic meter, and it's certainly somber, but Longfellow's The Song of Hiawatha is also relentlessly trochaic, and it's only intermittently somber. Likewise, I wouldn't say that dactylic meter is only used for variation. Read Tennyson's Charge of the Light Brigade and see how an author makes effective use of dactyls.
Subliminal0

1
Sat 13 Nov, 2010 04:18 pm
@joefromchicago,
No, but I wouldn't say 'FAR-mer' either. To me, none of farmer is stressed.

This is what my material says on the types of feet;

"Iamb: English is a naturally iambic language, and this is by far the most common metric foot in English poetry. It is very versatile, and can sound the most like natural speech.

Troche: Although it looks like simply reversed iambic, it has a different sound to it. It is often used as a metric variation within iambic poetry. If it is used as the primary metric foot, the poem has a heavy, somber feel to it. Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" is primarily trochaic: "Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary....." The use of trochaic lines also leads to the use of feminine rhymes, as in this case, which is hard to do and sounds somewhat unnatural in our language.

Anapest: Anapestic lines are very light and move quickly. The French language is naturally anapestic, so it is popular there, but in English it is used primarily in metric variations when the line needs to move quickly. When it is used as the primary meter, the poem is so light as to sound comical. It is therefore used frequently in humorous poems. All limericks are anapestic. Here is one example by Dixon Lanier Merritt, who adds feminine rhyme to the anapestic limerick to create a comical effect. (Note: may people mistakenly believe this poem is by the master of limericks, Ogden Nash.)

A wonderful bird is the Pelican,
His bill can hold more than his belican.
He can take in his beak
Food enough for a week;
But i'm damned if i see how the helican.

See how a combination of anapests and iambs create a comic sound in this stanza from "A Capital Ship" by Charles Edward Carryl:

The bo'swain's mate was very sedate,
Yet fond of amusement, too;
He played hopscotch with the starboard watch,
While the captain tickled the crew!
For he sat on the after rail,
And fired salutes with the captain's boots,
In the teeth of the booming gale!

Dactyl: In English, this is used only for metric variation, and it is almost never seen as the primary meter.

Spondee: Spondee is always used for metric variation, but it is very important in that use. When spondee is used within a line of iambic poetry, it changes the pace and brings emphasis to the accented syllables.

Metric Variation

In most cases in which poets are using a specific meter, they use one foot as the primary meter. They will often use some variations to create an effect. For example, look at this first four lines from Shakespeare's Sonnet 73.

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

These lines are almost perfectly iambic, with five iambic feet per line (u/u/u/u/u/). The fourth line, however both begins and ends with a spondee (//u/u/u///). Notice the effect this has on the sound of the poem. It brings emphasis to that line, and it especially brings the thought to an emphatic close.

You previously saw Dickinson's poem "A Word is Dead" and saw how she used sound to create effect. Because you had not learned it yet, that explanation omitted the fact that she used consecutive spondees in the middle of the poem to help create the effect described in that essay.

Degrees of Stress

In reality, meter is not so simple as stressed or unstressed syllables. When we speak, we use many different levels of stress. When a poem uses the highest levels of stress continually, as in "The Raven," the meter stands out. This is characteristic of nursery rhymes and other similar types of poetry. More skilled poets try to use different levels of stress, though, as in the Shakespeare sample. When they do it well, the meter is far more subtle and hard to detect. It sounds more like natural speech.

In contrast, when meter is very strong, we are almost forced into a sing-song pattern that can lead to unnatural speech sounds. Consider the beginning of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "Paul Revere's Ride." Longfellow mixes metric feet in a basically iambic line to create a sound like a galloping horse:

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

The meter is so very strong that we are almost forced in reading it to mispronounce words to fit the pattern. For example, in normal speech, midnight is spondaic, with both syllables given almost equal stress. People reading this poem, though, will almost always barely pronounce -night because of the influence of the meter.

Look at the following example to see how Countee Cullen's use of strong stresses in his iambic lines creates a nursery rhyme feel to the poem "Incident." The meter at first seems to be a perfect complement to the content of the poem, a childhood memory. That meter later turns ironic and helps create a shock that emphasizes the poem's theme.

Once riding in old Baltimore,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, "Nigger."

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That's all that I remember.

Line Length

The length of each line is named by the number of feet within the line. Look at the chart below to see the names for the most common line lengths.

Number of Feet Name
Two Dimeter (usually as a variation)
Three Trimeter (usually as a variation)
Four Tetrameter (very common)
Five Pentameter (very common)
Six Hexameter (rare)
seven Heptameter (very rare)
eight Octameter (extremely rare)

The vast majority of English language poetry is either iambic tetrameter or iambic pentameter.

Here is how we would use these terms to describe some of the poetry that appears as samples on this page.

"The Raven" uses trochaic octameter.
Merritt's limerick uses the basic limerick form, which is primarily anapestic with five lines in a trimeter, trimeter, dimeter, dimeter, trimeter pattern.
"A Capital Ship" uses iambic feet as its primary meter, with frequent anapests that create a comical sound. The lines alternate tetrameter and trimeter.
Shakespeare's sonnet, as is true in almost all sonnets, uses iambic pentameter, the most common meter in English poetry.
"Paul Revere's Ride" is iambic tetrameter, with anapests or dactyls at the beginnings of lines to create the sense of a galloping horse.
"Incident" alternates iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. "

Their way of explaining makes sense in the summary to me, although I don't understand how to identify or apply the information given when I see a poem because I don't agree with syllables considered (un)stressed. I also don't understand how to recognize the length of the meter [tri, tetra, penta, etc].
joefromchicago

1
Sat 13 Nov, 2010 04:54 pm
@Subliminal0,
Subliminal0 wrote:

No, but I wouldn't say 'FAR-mer' either. To me, none of farmer is stressed.

Are you a native English speaker?

Subliminal0 wrote:
All limericks are anapestic.

Your source is incorrect. Limericks are not anapestic, they're typically a combination of amphibrachs and anapests. An anapest is two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable. An amphibrach is a stressed syllable between two unstressed syllables. The first and second lines are usually amphibrachic trimeters, the third and fourth are anapestic dimeters. The fifth line is either an amphibrachic or anapestic trimeter. So, for example:

There once was a man from Nantucket

scans as:

u/u u/u u/u

It's amphibrachic trimeter, not anapestic.

Subliminal0 wrote:
Dactyl: In English, this is used only for metric variation, and it is almost never seen as the primary meter.

I think this is in error. Again, I would refer you to The Charge of the Light Brigade.

Subliminal0 wrote:
Their way of explaining makes sense in the summary to me, although I don't understand how to identify or apply the information given when I see a poem because I don't agree with syllables considered (un)stressed. I also don't understand how to recognize the length of the meter [tri, tetra, penta, etc].

If you can't "hear" the stresses in words, then I'm not surprised that you're having trouble identifying meter. Are you similarly unable to keep the beat when listening to music?
Subliminal0

1
Sun 21 Nov, 2010 11:49 pm
@joefromchicago,
Yes, I live in Eastern USA. English is my first language.

My material wasn't written by my teacher, and I'm not exactly sure where the curriculum is from as she doesn't design 100% of it herself. We're not diving too deeply in and we were only doing one unit on it [we do 16 units a year]. The unit just ended. I managed to get a B on the unit after looking up better ways to recognize stressed/unstressed syllables. I appreciate you taking time to talk with me, though.

I'm actually very good with music and beats. The general stressed syllables probably differ to the area a person lives and their speech. I didn't have any decent, universal techniques to help me recognize the syllables before. I was told to put my hand under my jaw and if it lowers, it's a stressed syllable. I'm not sure how true it is, but it got me a B so I'll roll with it.
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Trowsis

1
Wed 30 Mar, 2011 06:22 am
@Subliminal0,
Just in case, and don't be offended if already obvious to you, but the stress in the isolated, individual word may be more evident than when the word is in the context of a phrase. Sometimes it's helpful to get someone else to read the word aloud.
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lkw787

2
Tue 19 Apr, 2011 09:40 pm
@Subliminal0,
When I scan a poem I try beating it out by tapping on my thigh when I read, but there is often a bit of subjectivity involved in scanning. In general English poetry seems to favor the iambic pentameter, partly (I am guessing) because there are five fingers to each hand and so five seems "natural" to us and English in general is full of iambic words so it is an easy meter to achieve. But a good essay to read on the topic of meter in free verse is the poet Robert Hass' in his collection "20th century pleasures." Mary Oliver (another wonderful contemporary poet) also has a book out about the technical aspects of the craft.

The text you cite below is giving you the name of the foot: iamb followed by an example: "begin", troche: "farmer", anapest: "in the back," dactyl:"butterfly, spondee: "great dane"and so on... And then below that examples of the various kinds of lines.

Good luck.

Subliminal0

1
Fri 6 May, 2011 09:36 am
@lkw787,
Thanks for taking the time to help. I can figure out the metric feet, it is simply the stressed/unstressed syllables I was having trouble with. I finished my unit on this a while ago and maintained an A in my course, so this isn't need-to-know info anymore [thankfully]. I took my AP college exam yesterday morning so I have finished the course.

I have looked at several poems and really researched artists I am familiar with and their poetry, but I can't recognize the difference [stressed vs. stressed] still so I'm just accepting it's one of those things that are not compatable with my brain.
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