The Meters Which Count the Feet Upon Which English Poetry Walk

    The only tough parts about metrics is learning to count as you read, and remembering the Latin prefixes for numbers.  For your eye, use a virgule or slash (/) to divide the feet in a line.  When reading aloud, try counting on your fingers.  It works for me.  Just make sure you're grouping the feet naturally together as they sound when read as a sentence, with small allowances for "poetic license."  Extra syllables sometimes crop up, often at ends of lines and sometimes in their interiors, but if the line is basically iabmic, for instance ("da-DUM, da-DUM..." etc.) don't strain too hard with the phonological "lint" that it drags in with it.

1-foot    =    monometer         (often for comic effect--Donne, "Song [Go and catch a falling star]" lines 7 and 8 are iambic monometer, but the rather serious "hinge" lines of George Herbert's "Easter Wings" also are composed of two lines of spondaic monometer[!])

2-foot    =    dimeter             (again, usually for comic effect--see Donne)

3-foot    =    trimeter             (a popular "ditty" line, like many of the Fool's songs in Lear)

4-foot    =    tetrameter         (the popular English ballad line in ME and EModE)

5-foot    =    pentameter         (the great sonnet and blank verse line)

6-foot    =    hexameter         (an even more formal line, found in the last line of Spenser's Faerie Queene stanza)

7-foot    =    heptameter         (rare, found in alternation with hexameters in "poulter's measure"--see QEI, 594)

8-foot    =    octameter         (I know of none in this era's literture)

9-foot    =    nonameter         (ditto)

10-foot    =    decameter         (ditto and etc.)

Click here for help with terms for poetic "feet," or syllable combinations, which poets count when determining a poem's meter.  Click here for help with terms to describe stanzas, a poem's larger line groupings, usually established by rhymed line groups or rhetorical stages.

Click here to hear some emotional effects being produced with meter without words by Drummers!