Meter is a unit of rhythm in poetry, the pattern of the beats. It is also called a foot. Each foot has a certain number of syllables in it, usually two or three syllables. The difference in types of meter is which syllables are accented or stressed and which are not.
Iamb meter has the first syllable unaccented and the second accented so it sounds like duh DUH. Here are examples of iamb meter:
- That time / of year / thou mayst / in me / be hold - William Shakespeare's "Sonnet 73"
- Shall I /com pare /thee to / a sum / mer's day? - William Shakespeare's "Sonnet 18"
- Come live / with me / and be / my love
And we / will all / the plea / sures prove - Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love"
- All I / could see / from where / I stood / Was three / long moun / tains and / a wood; - Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Renascence"
- To swell / the gourd, / and plump / the ha / zel shells - John Keats' "To Autumn"
Trochee meter has the first syllable accented and the second unaccented so it sounds like DUH duh. Here are examples of trochee meter:
- Tell me / not in / mournful / numbers
By the / shores of / Gitche / Gumee,
By the / shining / Big-Sea- / Water - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Song of Hiawatha"
- Why so / pale and / wan, fond / Lover?
Prithee / why so / pale?
Will, when / looking / well can't / move her,
Looking / ill pre / vail?
Prithee / why so / pale? - Sir John Suckling's "Song: Why so pale and wan fond lover?"
- The Grizz / ly Bear / is huge / and wild;
He has / devoured / an in / fant child.
The in / fant child / is not / aware
It has / been eat / en by / the bear. - A. E. Housman's "Infant Innocence"
- Earth, re / ceive / an hon / oured guest;
William / Yeats is / laid to / rest:
Let this / Irish / vessel / lie
Emptied / of its / poet / ry. - W. H. Auden's "In Memory of W. B. Yeats"
Dactyl meter has the first syllable accented and the second and third unaccented so it sounds like DUH duh duh. Here are examples of dactyl meter:
- This is the / forest pri / meval,
the murmur / ing pines and / the hemlock - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Evangeline"
- Cannon to / right of them,
Cannon to / left of them,
Cannon in / front of them
Volley'd and / thunder'd; - Alfred Lord Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade"
- Half a league, / half a league
Half a league / onward, - Alfred Lord Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade"
- We that had / Loved him so
Followed him / Honoured him, - Robert Browning's "The Lost Leader"
- Just for a / handful of / silver he / left us
Just for a / riband to / stick in his / coat - Robert Browning's "The Lost Leader"
Anapest meter has the first two syllables unaccented and the third syllable accented so it sounds like duh duh DUH. Here are examples of anapest meter:
- The Assy / rian came down / like a wolf / on the fold
And his co / horts were gleam / ing in pur / ple and gold - Lord Byron's "The Destruction of Sennacherib"
- And the sheen / of their spears / was like stars / on the sea, - Lord Byron's "The Destruction of Sennacherib"
- In the midst / of the word / he was try / ing to say,
In the midst / of his laugh / ter and glee,
He had soft / ly and sud / denly van / ished away -
For the Snark / was a Boo / jum, you see. - Lewis Carroll, "The Hunting of the Snark"
- Oh, Potter, / you rotter, / oh, what have / you done,
You're kill / ing off stu / dents, you think / it's good fun. - Peeves's song from Harry Potter
- His eyes are / as green as / a fresh pick / led toad - Harry's valentine from Harry Potter
- From the cen / tre all round / to the sea,
I am lord / of the fowl / and the brute. - Will Cowper's "Verses Supposed To Be Written By Alexander Selkirk, During His Solitary Abode In The Island Of San Fernandez"
Spondee meter follows the two-syllable rhyming pattern, but both are stressed to sound like DUH DUH. Here are examples of spondee meter:
- With / swift, slow; / sweet, sour; / adazzle, dim; - Gerald Manley Hopkins "Pied Beauty"
- Break, break, / break
On thy cold gray / stones, / O Sea! - Alfred, Lord Tennyson "Break, Break, Break"
- Slow, slow, / fresh fount, / keep time / with my / salt tears; - Ben Johnson "Slow, Slow, Fresh Fount"
- As yet but knock, / breathe, shine, / and seek to mend; - John Donne "Holy Sonnet XIV"
Given that spondee provides irregular feet to the poetry, it's commonly only used in areas of a poem.
While not a modern meter type, pyrrhic meter was used in Greek poetry and is two unstressed meters that sound like duh duh. Here are a few examples of pyrrhic meter:
- To a / green thought / in a / green shade. - Andrew Marvell's "The Garden"
- My way / is to / begin / with the / beginning. - Lord Byron "Don Juan"
- When the / blood creeps / and the / nerves prick. - Alfred, Lord Tennyson "In Memoriam"
Since pyrrhic meter creates monotony, it's typically used in parts of poetry rather than the entire poem.
Now you've learned a lot about the types of meter in poetry. For more examples, check out examples of iambic pentameter.