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

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The Tyger(1794)

William Blake

Tyger! tyger! burning bright
MeterTyger! tyger! burning bright

Note on line 1: This line, like the majority of those that follow it, exemplifies a metrical ambiguity that comes with the territory of folk (-based) poetry in English. Seven syllables of militantly alternating stress and slack add up without question to tetrameter. But are the feet iambs or trochees? Or in other words, for which you may want to consult the Glossary: while the line is obviously catalectic, is it an acephalous line or a case of terminal truncation? 4B4V reflects a prosodic consensus (not unanimity!) in favoring iambic scansion for such a line, on the principle that meters in English verse tend to rising (stress-ended) feet. Join this consensus and by the time you reach line 4, and line 11, you’ll be glad you did.

In the forests of the night,
MeterIn the forests of the night,

Note on line 2: Why not a nice, balladic trimeter here comprising an anapest, an iamb, and an iamb? Because, as the poem taken whole will show, the four-line stanzas are tetrameter quatrains and not ballad stanzas. Line 2 and several others that follow put stress on initial prepositions or conjunctions that would ordinarily lie slack. This phenomenon is a lot easier to handle and scan once you have read the whole poem out, and out loud. Doing so will put you in close quarters with the obsessiveness of its frenzied speaker, whose insatiable appetite for moral thrills overrides pronunciational business as usual.

What immortal hand or eye
MeterWhat immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
MeterCould frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
MeterIn what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
MeterBurnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
MeterOn what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?
MeterWhat the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
MeterAnd what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
MeterCould twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
MeterAnd when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
MeterWhat dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
MeterWhat the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
MeterIn what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
MeterWhat the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
MeterDare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
MeterWhen the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
MeterAnd watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
MeterDid he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
MeterDid he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! tyger! burning bright
MeterTyger! tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
MeterIn the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
MeterWhat immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
MeterDare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Rhyme
Show Stress    Foot division    Syncopation