For Better for Verse: An interactive learning tool that can help you understand what makes metered poetry in English tick.

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from The Prelude (I.326-39)(1805)

William Wordsworth

Nor less, when spring had warmed the cultured Vale,
MeterNor less, when spring had warmed the cultured Vale,
Moved we as plunderers where the mother bird
MeterMoved we as plunderers where the mother bird
Had in high places built her lodge; though mean
MeterHad in high places built her lodge; though mean
Our object and inglorious, yet the end
MeterOur object and inglorious, yet the end
Was not ignoble. Oh! when I have hung
MeterWas not ignoble. Oh! when I have hung
Above the raven’s nest, by knots of grass
MeterAbove the raven’s nest, by knots of grass
And half-inch fissures in the slippery rock
MeterAnd half-inch fissures in the slippery rock
But ill sustained, and almost (so it seemed)
MeterBut ill sustained, and almost (so it seemed)

Note on line 8: The rock climber’s poise between traction and slippage gets rendered physically into the verse of this and the former line. Wordsworth’s body English emerges with special mastery in the scansion of “almost”: a word that can take stress on either the first or second syllable when it has to, but that here, extraordinarily, earns stress on both. It’s a good question why Wordsworth departs from this athletic interlock into the smoothness of the line that comes next.

Suspended by the blast that blew amain,
MeterSuspended by the blast that blew amain,
Shouldering the naked crag, oh, at that time
MeterShouldering the naked crag, oh, at that time
While on the perilous ridge I hung alone,
MeterWhile on the perilous ridge I hung alone,
With what strange utterance did the loud dry wind
MeterWith what strange utterance did the loud dry wind

Note on line 12: Two words in defense of this admittedly odd scansion. Yes, that’s a very long line of slacks between the two big three-stress clumps; but, six stresses being already a lot in a pentameter line, isn’t the extreme irregularity exhilarating? (Still, if you want you may stress “did,” making it the end of an anapestic third foot, and making “the loud” an iambic fourth foot, although a software technicality prevents 4B4V from recognizing that pattern as correct.) Stress on “what” in the first foot may seem excessive, in view of the spondee on its heels; but stressing it brings out the genuinely wondering question that is stowed away syntactically within Wordsworth’s exclamation: I know the wind was telling me something, but what?

Blow through my ear! the sky seemed not a sky
MeterBlow through my ear! the sky seemed not a sky
Of earth—and with what motion moved the clouds!
MeterOf earth—and with what motion moved the clouds!

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