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

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Lear on the Heath (from King Lear III.ii.1-9)(1605)

William Shakespeare

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks. Rage, blow.
MeterBlow, winds, and crack your cheeks. Rage, blow.

Note on line 1: Classify this stormy 8-syllable line iambic tetrameter if you choose. But see whether, after you’ve completed scanning the speech, you don’t come around and agree with 4B4V that the meter of the passage is pentameter — as it is in nearly all Shakespeare’s verse drama. An actor who feels the pentameter supporting his performance of the speech may claim license to linger out the last two words as if they were disyllables: Rrrr-AGE! Bllll-OW! In this terrific scene old King Lear is, however you take the word, quite mad.

You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
MeterYou cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks.
MeterTill you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks.
You sulph’rous and thought-executing fires,
MeterYou sulph’rous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
MeterVaunt-couriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts,

Note on line 5: The second foot of this line, as more obviously of the one above it, exemplifies that 4B4V rarity, an embraced elision (chalk it up as a pyrrhic victory). We choose elision here as the lesser of two evils, the greater being a bathetic anapest that would mount through two slacks to throw feeble pseudo-stress on a particle that couldn’t really sustain the weight. Try, nevertheless, to feel the elided third syllable in both “sulphurous” and “courier” as a little rumble heralding the big spondaic thunderclap that comes next as the maddened old king invokes the end of the world.

Singe my white head. And thou, all-shaking thunder,
MeterSinge my white head. And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity of the world,
MeterStrike flat the thick rotundity of the world,

Note on line 7: PS to former note: Here the fourth foot is indeed an anapest, wobbly but still holding its ground, for the decisive reason that “of” takes more stress than the ensuing “the.” That’s definitely not what happens in lines 4 and 5 above. Alternatively, and although the 4B4V operating system precludes its display as correct, you might put a light stress on the last syllable of “rotundity” and gather “of the earth” up into a last-foot (last-ditch?) anapest. The scansion may turn on whether your Lear more relishes imagining the earth in its current roundness or as flattened by the Last Judgment.

Crack Nature’s moulds, all germains spill at once,
MeterCrack Nature’s moulds, all germains spill at once,
That makes ingrateful man.
MeterThat makes ingrateful man.

Show Stress    Foot division    Caesura    Syncopation