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

Link to U.Va. English Department

Hyperion I.1-14(1820)

John Keats

Deep in the shady sadness of a vale
MeterDeep in the shady sadness of a vale
Far sunken from the healthy breath of morn,
MeterFar sunken from the healthy breath of morn,
Far from the fiery noon, and eve’s one star,
MeterFar from the fiery noon, and eve’s one star,

Note on line 3: In this proem to his unfinished epic about superhumanly huge Titans, Keats treats his lines by and large like architectural slabs, weight-bearing members sustaining an immensity. Caesuras — cracks in the slab — are rare, and when they occur they have special work to do. Here that work is to herald the entrance of the Titan king Saturn. The caesura isolates the strong spondaic final foot of line 3, whose emphatic consonants n, s, and t will rumble through Saturn’s name and right across the rest of line 4. Thus, while assonance and consonance are the real stars of this show, metrical effects play a key supporting role.

Sat gray-hair’d Saturn quiet as a stone,
MeterSat gray-hair’d Saturn quiet as a stone,
Still as the silence round about his lair;
MeterStill as the silence round about his lair;
Forest on forest hung above his head
MeterForest on forest hung above his head
Like cloud on cloud. No stir of air was there,
MeterLike cloud on cloud. No stir of air was there,
Not so much life as on a summer’s day
MeterNot so much life as on a summer’s day
Robs not one light seed from the feather’d grass,
MeterRobs not one light seed from the feather’d grass,

Note on line 9:The run of five consecutive stresses — engrossing fully half the decasyllabic line — seems unlikely, yet this is not the only line in Keats that pulls the trick off. There has to be a slack in that series somewhere, we say; but where? It’s impossible to say. Remarkably, here the effect is not ponderous, as spondee-jams like the one in lines 3-4 above tend to be. It’s the reverse: weightless, suspended; indeed suspenseful, yet without a hint of resolution. This may be the place to note Keats’s care to show by typography how many syllables an ambiguous participle like “feather’d” should have. When he wants the opposite effect in a later line of this same poem and writes, “Tall oaks, branch-charmed by the earnest stars,” we know from the absence of apostrophe to give “charmed” two syllables and so fill the pentameter out.

But where the dead leaf fell, there did it rest.
MeterBut where the dead leaf fell, there did it rest.
A stream went voiceless by, still deaden’d more
MeterA stream went voiceless by, still deaden’d more
By reason of his fallen divinity
MeterBy reason of his fallen divinity
Spreading a shade: the Naiad mid her reeds
MeterSpreading a shade: the Naiad mid her reeds
Press’d her cold finger closer to her lips.
MeterPress’d her cold finger closer to her lips.

Note on line 14: A final point about this stunning passage concerns verse beginnings. A majority of the lines begin with a stressed syllable and not the iambically normal slack. Toggle the Syncopation button once your complete scansion is correct, and see for yourself how often it happens here. This habit of descriptive impetus Keats learned from his master in epic versification Milton. Compare the two poets’ practice by going to our 4B4V sample from Paradise Lost (titled Eden First Seen).


Show Stress    Foot division    Caesura    Syncopation