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


Dorothy Parker

Razors pain you;
MeterRazors pain you;

Note on line 1: Frustrated attempts to scan this line –and indeed every odd-numbered line of this tight-lipped epigram –into the two trochees it seems to comprise are likely to bring on a mood as foul as the dour speaker’s. Yet loyalty to the 4B4V bias for rising meters proves the best way to sense of the 8-line unit taken whole. For stress gets the last word (and vice versa) in all the even-numbered lines, which become a lot more awkward to scan catalectically (via terminal truncation of one slack) than the odd-numbered ones do if scanned as acephalous with feminine ends. That’s partly because the odd lines are, while bumpy, all bumpy in an identical way, while the even lines never execute the same rhythm twice. That no single line actually conforms in rhythm to iambic dimeter, which nevertheless governs them all, is a suitably crabby prosodic bonus.

Rivers are damp;
MeterRivers are damp;
Ac ids stain you;
MeterAcids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp;
MeterAnd drugs cause cramp;
Guns aren’t lawful;
MeterGuns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
MeterNooses give;
Gas smells awful;
MeterGas smells awful;
You might as well live.
MeterYou might as well live.

Show Stress    Foot division    Syncopation