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

Here Dead Lie We(1936)

A.E. Housman

Here dead lie we because we did not choose
MeterHere dead lie we because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
MeterTo live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
MeterLife, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
But young men think it is, and we were young.
MeterBut young men think it is, and we were young.

Note on line 4: Strict adherence to our rules of thumb would create a second-foot spondee by stressing the second, third, and fourth words: an adjective, a noun, a verb, and all of them monosyllables. But that’s too beefed-up a gesture for the ghostly veterans who utter this stoic, ironical epigram. Masters of understatement, they don’t thump but shrug. (What matters most to them – their own deadness – did demand a spondee in line 1, and they twisted ordinary syntax into a pretzel to make sure they got it.) 4B4V hears “young men” as a colloquial phrase – like “old folks” or “’small fry” – with stress on the first syllable only. You may stress both syllables, but then you have to leave “think” slack, if you don’t want Housman’s languid speakers to sound too vividly emphatic. Note how poignantly the light stress on “is” enlists the ensuing caesura as a space for remembering what it once felt like to care.


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