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

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Sudden Light(1863)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

I have been here before,
MeterI have been here before,

Note on line 1:This cryptically simple opener can be sounded so many ways that it outstrips 4B4V’s technical capacity to keep up with them. Sorry about the frustration that may have entailed. Only the disyllable “before” is securely fixed; how to say the preceding monosyllables seems quite up for grabs. Try their combinations out, with an ear for the subtly various contexts they imply. One initially plausible option that can be ruled out is anapestic dimeter: scroll down to the first line of Rossetti’s second stanza to see why line 1 here, in order to make the stanzas match, must be a trimeter like line 6. Considerations of symmetry likewise urge that lines 1 and 6 be scanned the same, probably but not surely in a trochee-iamb-iamb pattern.

But when or how I cannot tell:
MeterBut when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
MeterI know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
MeterThe sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.
MeterThe sighing sound, the lights around the shore.

You have been mine before,–
MeterYou have been mine before,–
How long ago I may not know:
MeterHow long ago I may not know:
But just when at that swallow’s soar
MeterBut just when at that swallow’s soar
Your neck turned so,
MeterYour neck turned so,
Some veil did fall,–I knew it all of yore.
MeterSome veil did fall,–I knew it all of yore.

Then, now,–perchance again!
MeterThen, now,–perchance again!
O round mine eyes your tresses shake!
MeterO round mine eyes your tresses shake!
Shall we not lie as we have lain
MeterShall we not lie as we have lain

Note on line 13: This line is nearly as rich in possibilities as line 1 above. A recitation that conforms to the iambic meter will voice an hypnotic automatism, well suited to the deja-vu spell entrancing the whole poem. Alternatively, double spondaic emphasis in feet 2 and 4 will bring out what deja vu denotes: the uncanny recurrence of a bygone affect in the present, indeed here in the future. (It will also link up nicely with the spondaic slowdown in the line that follows.)

Thus for Love’s sake,
MeterThus for Love’s sake,
And sleep, and wake, yet never break the chain?
MeterAnd sleep, and wake, yet never break the chain?

Rhyme
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