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Metrical Feet: Lesson for a Boy(1806)

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Trochee trips from long to short.
MeterTrochee trips from long to short.
From long to long in solemn sort,
MeterFrom long to long in solemn sort,

Note on line 2: Why this master poet here presents a manifestly iambic tetrameter line as if it were trochaic is baffling. It scans, after all, just like the expressly iambic line 5 below. The reason must involve some subtle fusion (confusion?) in his mind between operative English stress and the long syllabic “quantities” that formed part of his education in the classical tongues but that have never worked out in English verse. We can, at least, hear what he means in the lingering protraction of “long” and “solemn”: line 2 takes perceptibly more time to say than line 1, whose trotting mechanical briskness contrasts to the elastic swing that results here from the pronunciation disparity between “long” slow stresses and “short” rapid slacks.

Slow Spondee stalks; strong foot! yet ill able
MeterSlow Spondee stalks; strong foot! yet ill able
Ever to come up with Dactyl trisyllable.
MeterEver to come up with Dactyl trisyllable.
Iambics march from short to long.
MeterIambics march from short to long.
With a leap and a bound the swift Anapests throng.
MeterWith a leap and a bound the swift Anapests throng.

Note on line 6:This line illustrates, on the very best authority, how triple meters (here anapests, but it’s true of dactyls too) can override our rules of thumb. In a less giddy line “swift,” a monosyllabic adjective, would draw stress the same way it does in ordinary conversation. But here the headlong meter so hijacks speech rhythm that “swift” acts more like “the” than it does like “throng,” a word whose vowel-consonant ratio it otherwise closely resembles.

Rhyme
Show Stress    Foot division    Syncopation