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

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Meeting at Night(1845)

Robert Browning

The gray sea and the long black land;
MeterThe gray sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
MeterAnd the yellow half-moon large and low;
And the startled little waves that leap
MeterAnd the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
MeterIn fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
MeterAs I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i’ the slushy sand.
MeterAnd quench its speed i’ the slushy sand.

Note on line 6: Browning is trying hard here, by Victorian lights, for a breathless colloquial effect, and his “i’ the” harks back to typesetting practices from Shakespeare’s day. 4B4V scans the result as anapestic, though the poet was squeezing it towards iambic. Maybe the most important thing to hear is how the contracted phrase suits the mashed consonance of “quench” and “slushy” nearby.


Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
MeterThen a mile of warm sea-scented beach;

Note on line 7: Although it may seem natural to stress the first syllable of “scented,” there is a good reason not to. The compound “sea-scented” belongs with phrases like “ham-fisted,” “house-broken, “wall-papered,” where English throws stress on the noun up front and leaves the trailing adjective a double slack. Another issue that arises with this line is where to place the foot divisions. Why not, e. g., pyrrhic, trochee, spondee, anapest? It’s a perfectly legal alternative grouping of the same stress pattern. Still, it’s less good, because more needlessly erratic, than the scansion 4B4V endorses. Remember that the meter here is iambic; so where iambs can be identified, all other things being more or less equal, go for them.

Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
MeterThree fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
MeterA tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
MeterAnd blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, thro’ its joys and fears,
MeterAnd a voice less loud, thro’ its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!
MeterThan the two hearts beating each to each!

Rhyme
Show Stress    Foot division    Syncopation