For Better For Verse:

Link to U.Va. English Department

What’s Scansion?

In 4B4V “scansion” names a two-stroke engine for marking the syllabic patterning on which traditional metrics in English is based. In the binary system that we use here a syllable either is stressed or it’s slack, period. A foot is iambic or it’s anapestic, trochaic or dactylic, spondaic or pyrrhic, and that’s that. Moreover, it’s by preference either iambic or anapestic: 4B4V subscribes to the view that verse in English privileges rising feet, i.e, feet that move like the iamb and anapest from slack to stress. This view has consequences for certain folk rhythms that some prosodists treat as trochaic or dactylic instead.  (As issues like this arise in particular poems, look for lightbulb notes that outline what’s at stake in choosing between two plausible scansions of a line.) We think that erring on the side of bluntness and rule fosters a competence in basic and intermediate scansion that will let you join a subtler prosodic conversation once the work you’ve done here has prepared you for it.  That conversation occurs in the list of books that is accessible via our Resources tab, several of which lay out more thoroughly graduated systems of scansion than the one introduced here.