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

Jordan(1633)

George Herbert

Who says that fictions only and false hair
MeterWho says that fictions only and false hair
Become a verse? Is there in truth no beauty?
MeterBecome a verse? Is there in truth no beauty?
Is all good structure in a winding stair?
MeterIs all good structure in a winding stair?
May no lines pass, except they do their duty
MeterMay no lines pass, except they do their duty
Not to a true, but painted chair?
MeterNot to a true, but painted chair?

Is it no verse, except enchanted groves
MeterIs it no verse, except enchanted groves
And sudden arbors shadow coarse-spun lines?
MeterAnd sudden arbors shadow coarse-spun lines?
Must purling streams refresh a lover’s loves?
MeterMust purling streams refresh a lover’s loves?
Must all be veiled, while he that reads, divines,
MeterMust all be veiled, while he that reads, divines,
Catching the sense at two removes?
MeterCatching the sense at two removes?

Shepherds are honest people; let them sing:
MeterShepherds are honest people; let them sing:
Riddle who list, for me, and pull for Prime;
MeterRiddle who list, for me, and pull for Prime;
I envy no man’s nightingale or spring;
MeterI envy no man’s nightingale or spring;

Note on line 13: Feet 3 and 4 focus an intricate little subtlety. Go ahead and stress “man” if that’s how you feel the gesture here. But do notice what then happens to “nightingale”: the word forfeits the promoted stress (see Glossary) that a straight iambic scansion would give its normally slack final syllable. The choice between NIGHTingale and NIGHTinGALE comes down to a decision about tonal attitude. If you think Herbert is putting sarcastic scare quotes around “nightingale” and “spring” — pet terms that they were among the conventional poets of his day — then you want the exaggerating effect of that promoted stress and should leave “man” slack. If you think on the other hand that he’s being concessive — Look, it’s fine with me if they want to devote their art to mere celebration of this world, every man to his own taste and vocation — then put your stress on “man,” and let the tail end of “nightingale” flutter out in a pyrrhic. The point to grasp is how each distribution of the five beats activates a different attitude.

Nor let them punish me with loss of rhyme,
MeterNor let them punish me with loss of rhyme,
Who plainly say, My God, My King.
MeterWho plainly say, My God, My King.

Rhyme
Show Stress    Foot division    Syncopation