Here are the four commonest feet in English poetry :
(1) Iambus / (tee-tum)
(2) Trocher / (tum-tee)
(3) Anapaest / (tee-tee-turn)
(4) Dectyl / (tum-tee-tee)
Occasionally the following are used :
(5) Amphibrach /
(6) Spondee / /
In marking the stressed syllables, the “macron” sign—may be employed instead of the symbol used here, but it is useful to be able to indicate a syllable which while not “slack” (unstressed), nevertheless does not carry a full stress. By using this sign for a fully stressed syllable, we are enabled to make a clear distinction between full and half stresses by \ for the latter. For example, a true Pyrrhic foot rarely occurs ; it is much more frequently a slack syllable followed by a lightly stressed one : \.
In Sprung Rhythm and Free Verse. stress is still the basis of the rhythm, but here, three, four, or more slack syllables may be grouped with each stressed one.
The metre of a poem depends on the number of feet to the line and the pattern of the stanzas as well as the kind of feet used.
A line containing one foot is called a monometer.
A line containing two feet is called a dimeter.
A line containing three feet is called a trimeter.
A line containing four feet is called a tetrameter.
A line containing five feet is called a pentameter.
A line containing six feet is called an hexameter.
A line containing seven feet is called an heptameter.
A line containing eight feet is called an octameter.
The chief English Stanzas are :
(a) Ballad Metre.
Four line stanzas consisting of alternate iambic tetrameters and trimeters and riming a b c b.
Childe Maurice hunted the Silver Wood
He whistled and he sang :
‘I think I see the woman yonder
That I have Iove’d lang.”
(b) The Heroic Couplet.
Iambic pentameters timing aa bb, etc. (i.e. in couplets)
And now, unveiled, the toilet stands displayed,
Each silver vase in mystic order laid,
First, robed in white, the Nymph intent adores,
With head uncovered, the Cosmetic Pow’rs.
(“The Rape of the Lock”)
(c) Blank Verse.
Unrimed iambic pentameters.
Of man’s first disobedience and the fruit
Of that forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
Sing, Heavenly Muse.
(d) Spenserian Stanza
Nine-lined stanza consisting of eight iambic pentameters followed by one Alexandrine (iambic haxameter). Rimes ab ab be bc c.
Lo I the man, whose Nurse whilome did maske,
As time her taught, in lowly Shepheards weeds !
Am now enforst a far unfitter taske,
For trumpets sterne to change mine Oaten deeds,
And sign of Knights and Ladies gentle deeds !
Whose prayses having slept in silence long,
Me, all too meane, the sacred Muse areeds
To blazon broad amongst her learned throng :
Fierce warres and faithful loves shall moralize my song.
Petrarcan, Shakespearian or Miltonic.
(f) Rime Royal.
Seven iambic pentameters riming ab ab bc c.
The double sorwe of Troilus to tellen,
That was the kyng Priamus sone of Troye,
In lovynge, how his aventures fellen
From wo to wele, and after out of joie,
My purpose is, er that I parte fro ye.
Thesiphone, thow help me for t’endite
This woful vets, that weapon as I write.
(“Troilus and Criseyde”)
(g) Ottava Rims.
Eight iambic pentameters riming ab ab ab cc.
My poem’s epic, and is meant to be
Divided in twelve books ! each book containing,
With love, and war, a heavy gale at sea,
A list of ships, and captains, and kings reigning,
New characters ; the episodes are three :
A panoramic view of hell’s in training,
After the style of Virgil and of Homer,
So that my name of Epic’s no misnomer.
(2) Technical Devices
(a) Caesura. The pause dividing a line of verse into two parts.
Satan exalted sat ççby merit raised.
(b) End-stopped line. A line ending in a pause.
Whereto with speedy words the Arch-Fiend replied :
Fallen Cherub, to be weak is miserable,
Doing or suffering.
(c) Run-on line enjambment. Here the sense comes straight through without a pause from the end of one line to the beginning of the next.
But see ! the angry victor hath recalled His ministers of vengeance and pursuit Back to the gates of Heaven.
(d) Weak Ending. The slack, or unstressed, tenth syllable in an unrimed iambic pentameter.
Since what I am to say must be but that
Which contradicts my accusation, and
But what comes from myself.
(“The Winter’s Tale”)
(e) Feminine Ending. The slack, or unstressed, eleventh syllable in an unrimed iambic pentameter.
If you would not so,
You pity not the state, nor the remembrance
Of his most sovereign name.
(“The Winter’s Tale”)
(3) Kinds of Poetry
(a) Lyrical Poetry
Short and intensely personal and passionate poems (e.g., sonnet, ode (extended lyric), elegy, song).
(b) Dramatic Poetry
Comedy, Tragedy, Masque, Monodrama. All these have in common the use of characters and an attempt to represent the speech and actions of human beings.
(c) Narrative Poetry
Poetry which tells a story (e.g. short tales in verse ; epic, romance).
(d) Didactic Poetry
Poetry which teaches. Allegory and Satire.
(e) Descriptive Poetry
Direct description of scenes and places as well as :
Pastoral : Poetry dealing with a “golden age” in which the main characters are idealized ; shepherds and shepherdesses.
Eclogue : consisting of dialogues between “pastoral” shepherds.
Idyll : smooth and idealized description of rural or domestic life.
(f) Humorous Poetry
Burlesque : poetry which” ridicules ideas or things ; mock-heroic.
Parody : poetry which imitates the style of another poet with the intent to poke fun at it.
(4) The Science of Rhetoric In Prose
Most people know roughly what a Metaphor is ; it is the most important figure of speech, and the commonest. Even in the most ordinary conversation we often use metaphors without knowing that we do so : ‘You are a donkey !’, ‘I am in the soup’. ‘We shall have to wait for that till our ship comes in.’ Metaphor is that figure of speech in which one thing (or idea, place, person, deed and so forth) is compared to another, without acknowledging in a form of words (‘Like’, ‘as’, ‘as if’, ‘even as’…) that any comparison is being made.
‘My Love is like a red, red rose’
is a simile, but
‘For nothing this wide universe I can
Save thou, my Rose’ is a metaphor
‘Boys and girls tumbling in the street, and
playing, were moving jewels’.
A simile is very like a metaphor, in that it makes a comparison, but in simile we use a word, generally ‘like’ or ‘as’, to show that it is a comparison. This figure too is common in ordinary speech, many similes has cliches : ‘He is as fit as a fiddle’ : ‘The cat is as black as ink and as fat as butter’ ; ‘He drinks like a fish’. A simile may be used in order to make something clearer or merely as an ornament. For example :
(a) You will be overwhelmed, like Tarpeia, by the heavy wealth which you have extracted from tributary generations.’
(Newman : “The Scope and Nature of Universiiy Education.”)
(b) ‘In the distance beyond the blue waters of the lake, and nearly screened by intervening foliage, was seen a shining speck, the rival capital of Tezcuco, and, still further on, the dark belt of porphyry, gridling the valley around like a rich setting which Nature had devised for the fairest of her jewels.’
(Prescott : “History of the Conquest of Mexico”.)
In poetry there are often long, sustained similes that are known as Epic Similes; the same kind of device may occur in prose :
(c) Too generally the very attainment of any deep repose seemed as if mechanically linked to some fatal necessity of self-interruption. It was as though a cup were gradually filled by the sleepy overflow of some natural fountain, the fulness of the cup expressing symbolically the completeness of the rest: but then, in the next stage of the process, it seemed as though the rush and torrent like babbling of the redundant waters, when running over from every part of the cup, interrupted the slumber which in their earlier stage of silent gathering they had so naturally produced.’
(De Quincey : “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.”)
In English we need some word for a figure of speech that seems to be half-way between a simile and a metaphor ; perhaps Analogy will serve. This is a comparison in which some acknowledgement is made, but, as it were, indirectly ; perhaps two examples will make this distinction clear.
(a) ‘I do not believe that Rafael taught Mich. Angelo, or that Mich. Angelo taught Rafael, any more than I believe that the Rose teaches the Lilly how to grow, or the Apple tree teaches the Pear tree how to bear Fruit.’
(William Blake : “In marginal note on Reynold’s Discourses”).
(b) ‘Let me make use of an illustration. In the combination of colours, very different results are produced by a difference in their selection and jurtaposition ; red, green, and white change their shades, according to the contrast to which they are submitted. And, in like manner, the drift and meaning of a branch of knowledge varies with the company in which it is introduced to the student.’
(Newman : “The Scope and Nature of University Education”)
Analogy may extend over several pages. Its proper function is to make something clear, but the trick of making something less clear by an analogy that is not really illuminating and only appears to be so is so common that in logic it is given the special name of false analogy.
This is another very common figure of speech and is really a typical kind of metaphor, in which some object, place or abstract idea is turned into a person with human attributes so that we can talk about it more intelligibly or vigorously. This too is often used in common speech : ‘America is concerned about the Far Eastern question’ or ‘Charity seeketh not its own’ and the personification of God as a male figure has led to much eccentricity of speech and theology.
(a) ‘The old houses can always chatter of what as fallen from them by indiscreet neglect or foolish care and all must regret the blotting of the little unnecessary trifles that were part of their nobility, like the grassy spaces between the garden wall and the public road, where the fowls paraded, and the ivy was plaited with periwinkle to-the edge of the gutter. These middle-aged houses make no such appeal. They gibber in premature senility, between tragedy and comedy.’
( Edward Thomas : “Rain”)
(b) ‘But the iniquity of oblivion blindly scattereth her Poppy, and deals with the memory of men without distinction to merit of perpetuity’.
(Sir Thomas Browne : “Urn Burial”)
This is usually a form of Metonymy or Metaphor, but the figure is often defined by its purpose rather than by the technique used. It is the device of using a substituted expression to disguise some fact or idea that is distressing, offensive, or embarrassing. We say someone is ‘tight’ or ‘tiddly’ when we mean ‘drunk’ ; a friend may have ‘passed away’ or be leading a ‘wild’ life. Euphemism is rather overdone in English ; it is sometimes desirable to avoid causing pain, but can become mealy-mouthed and silly. Sensible people will be guided by the society they are in ; some expressions may be acceptable in the family circle or private conversation, but not in a public lecture, but not in the pulpit. It is as rude to use euphemisms that other people do not understand, and so perhaps cause them embarrassment, as to use language that is too crude for the occasion.
Deliberate exaggeration for the sake of effect. Most of us use hyperbole every day without realizing that we are doing it, in such expressions as ‘I nearly died of laughing’, “Thank you a thousand times’ or ‘You could have knocked me down with a feather’. The device is commoner in verse than in serious prose, but is also fairly common in prose, though not at the present day.
(a) ‘Like other amphibious animals, we must come occasionally on shore : but the water is more properly our element, and in it, like them, as we find our great security, so we exert our greatest force.’
(Bolingbroke : “The Idea of a Patriot King”)
(b) ‘The whole house was constantly in an inundation, under the discipline of mops and brooms and scrubbing-brushes ; and the good housewives of those days were a kind of amphibious animal, delighting exceedingly to be dabbling in water—insomuch that a historian of the day gravely tells us, that many of his townswomen grew to have webbed fingers like unto a duck ; and some of them, he had little doubt, could the matter be examined into, would be found to have the tails of mermaids—but this I look upon to be a mere sport of fancy, or what is worse, a wilful misrepresentation’.
(Washington Irving : “A History of New York”)
(c) ‘The blue bird carries the sky on his back’.
(The early critics called this Paronomasia).
A play upon words, usually for comic effect, though there are serious puns in such writers as Shakespeare and Donne. The pun is regarded as vulgar because many bad ones are made, and a person who is always making puns is a social nuisance ; but a good pun in the right place may be amusing and clever.
‘I might suspect his thermometer (as indeed I did, for we Harvard men are apt to think ill of any graduation but out own) ; but it was a poor consolation. The fact remained that his herald Mercury, standing tiptoe, could look down on mine. I seem to glimpse something of this familiar weakness in Mr. White. He, too, has shared in these mercurial triumphs and defeats’.
(James Russell Lowell : “My Study Windows”)
The use of two or more words, near to each other, beginning with the same letter. This is much more common in verse than in prose and can be overdone in both, especially ; but it is agreeable in small quantities.
‘It is he that puts into a man all the wisdom of the world with-out speaking a word…(‘‘He” is Death).
(Sir Walter Raleigh : “A History of the World”)
Similarly of vowel sounds. This is commoner in poetry than in prose and can be a fault if it is too obvious in prose.
Language in which the actual sound of the words suggests their meaning.
‘The bees are buzzing and humming with great zest ; the doves are cooing : and the children chatter as they clatter downstairs to come and dabble in the cool, stream’.
This is one of the most important figures of speech in English and one of the hardest to define accurately. The definition ‘saying one thing while meaning another’ is too wide ; it is not ironical, merely civil, to say ‘1 am so glad to see you’ when we are thinking, ‘I wish you had chosen a more convenient time to call’. Irony is saying one thing while meaning another, not in the sense of untruth or of the kind of double meaning found in pun and metaphor, but in the sense of meaning something different to someone else who hears the speech and is intelligent enough to see the further meaning, or equipped with the knowledge to do so. The tone of voice or form of words shows what is intended. Meiosis may often be a form of irony. It is a highly sophisticated device and is found in many of the greatest writers. Fielding’s “Jonathan Wild”, Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” and Defoe’s “The Shortest Way With the Dissenters” are examples of whole books which are ironical.
“But dismissing Mrs. Slipslop was a point not so easily to be resolved upon : she had the utmost tenderness for her reputation, as she knew on that depended many of the most valuable blessings of life ; particularly cards, making curt’sies in public places, and, above all, pleasure of demolishing the reputations of others, in which innocent amusement she had an extraordinary delight”.
(Fielding : “Joseph Andrews”)
Here Fielding is speaking half through Lady Booby’s mouth directly, half in his own person, ironically. His phrasing makes it clear that he himself thinks the pleasures Lady Booby regards as supreme are trivial and the destruction of reputations far from innocent.
Dramatic irony is the special kind of irony often found in a play, an irony of situation in which what is said on the stage means more to the audience than to the person who says it, or hears it. The Greek tragedies and Macbeth are full of dramatic irony. A living English writer who is a constant user of irony in his prose and dramas, irony both of language and of situation, is Somerest Maugham. Thomas Hardy made very great use of ironies of situation and even called a book of short stories Life’s Little Ironies. Irony is favoured by the French even more than by the British.
Irony, which gives pleasure, relief or stimulus and is a friendly device, seeming to take people into the writer’s or speaker’s confidence, should not be confused with sarcasm, which needs a victim, is used for the deliberate infliction of pain and is not a weapon for civilized people.
Emphasizing ideas by placing them in clear, direct contrast. This device may consist of a single sentence, or a pair of words or phrases in a sentence ; or it may extend over several paragraphs. The Book of Proverbs is full of antitheses.
(a) ‘Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge ; it is thinking makes what we read ours’.
(John Locke : “Of the Conduct of the Understanding”)
(b) ‘When a servant is called before his master, he does not come with an expectation to hear himself rated for some trivial fault, threatened to be stripped, or used with any other unbecoming language, which mean masters often give to worthy servants ; but it is often to know, what road he took that he came so readily back according to order : whether he passed by such a ground ; if the old man who rents it is in good health ; or whether he gave Sir Roger’s love to him, or the like.
‘A man who preserves a respect founded on his benevolence to his dependants, lives rather like a prince than as a master in his family : his orders are received as favours rather than as duties ; and the distinction of approaching him is part of the reward for executing what is commanded by him.’
(Steel: “The Spectator”)
A short, pointed saying that may be more emphatic than a whole paragraph on the subject would be. An Aphorism is much the same thing, but does not necessarily have the touch of wit we find in an Epigram. Most proverbs are epigrams. Examples of prose epigrams will be found in large quantities in the essays of Francis Bacon and the stories and plays of Oscar Wilde.
This is generally epigrammatic in form and implies a strong antithesis, it is a statement that on a first hearing sounds self- contradictory. It can be a very good device for provoking people to think about something afresh, and was much used for this purpose by O.K. Chesterton.
‘Truth makes the greatest libel’.
(Harlin : On Wit and Humour)
‘Nothing is so much to be feared as fear. Atheism may comparatively be popular with God himself’.
This is a paradox compressed into very few words. As a highly concentrated device, it is more suited to poetry :
‘I could have been
A traitor then, a glorious, happy traitor
(Dryden : “All for Love”)
‘Thou pure impiety and impious purity !’
(Shakespeare : Much Ado About Nothing)
It is, however, sometimes used in prose, in such phrases as ‘an open secret’ or ‘the widest fool in Christendom’.
It is natural and usual, in common speech, to repeat things for emphasis or emotional effect. In the minute subdivisions of rhetorical devices used in the sixteenth-century critical books, repetition was divided into many classes. Abraham France speaks of Epizeuxis or Palilogia—the simple reptition of words or phrases in the same form ; Anadiplosis—that kind of repetition in which the last words of one sentence or phrase are repeated at the beginning of the next ; Anaphora—the repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of several sentences ; Epistrope—the repetition of words or phrases at the ends of sentences or shorter groups : Symploce—repetition at both the beginning and the end of a sentence ; Epanalepsis––the same word or phrase repeated at the end and the beginning of the same sentence Epanodos—the same word or phrase repeated at the beginning and middle and end of a sentence ; Polyoptoton—the use of a word in several of its grammatical forms. Here are some of Abraham France’s examples (with modernized spelling) :
(a) ‘The time is changed, my lute, the time is changed’.
(b) ‘O stealing time the subject of delay,
Delay the rack of unrefrain’d derire,
What strange design hast thou my hopes to stay ?
My hopes which do but to mine own aspire ?’
(c) ‘Old age is wise, and full of constant truth,
Old age will stayed from ranging humours lives,
Old age hath knowen, whatever was in youth,
Old age o’ercome the greater honour gives’.
(d) ‘O no, he can not be good, that knows not why he is good
But stands so far good, as his fortune may keep him unassailed’.
The arrangement of words, ideas and so on in order of increasing importance.
(a) “What is become of my rare jewels, my rich array, my sumptuous fare, my waiting servants, my many friends and all my vain pleasures : my pleasure is banished by displeasure, my friends fled like foes, my servants gone, my feasting turned to fasting, my rich array consumed to rags, and my jewels deck out my chiefest enemies”.
(Thomas of Reading : “anonymous”, 1623)
(b) “All that most maddens and torments ; all that stirs tip the less of things ; all truth with malice in it ; all creacks the sinews and cakes the brain ; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought ; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made partically assailable in Moby Dick”.
(Herman Melville : Moby Dick)
(It is sometimes called Bathos). The arrangement of ideas, words or phrases so that the very last item is less important than those that have gone before. The reader is, as it were, Jet down with a bump. When this is done accidentally out of carelessness the effect is comic and the passage is spoilt.
“Because one person dropped a cigarette end, three houses were burned to the ground, a collection of irreplaceable books and curios was destroyed, four people lost their lives and Mrs. Robinson’s washing was spoilt by the smoke.”
It may be used deliberately for an ironical purpose.
Here is an interesting passage in which the order of ideas seems like anti-climax, but the actual emotion effect is of climax ; in the ironic manner of Fielding, the implication is that the last occurrence, though the least important, would be the most astonishing :
‘Suppose a stranger, who entered the chambers of a lawyer, being imagined a client, when the lawyer was preparing his plan for the fee, should pull out a writ against him. Suppose an apothecary, at the door of a chariot containing some great doctor of eminent skill, should, instead of directions to a patient, present him with a portion for himself. Suppose a minister should, instead of a good round sum, treat my Lord……or Sir……or Esq……with a good broomstick. Suppose a civil companion, or a led captain, should, instead of virtue, and honour, beauty, and parts, and admiration thunder vice, and infamy, and ugliness, and folly, and contempt, in his patron’s ears. Suppose when a tradesman first carries in his bill, the man of fashion should pay it ; or suppose, if he did so, the tradesman should abate what he had overcharged, on the supposition of waiting.’
(Fielding : Joseph Andrews)
Hinting at something without actually saying it. We all know the difference between, ‘she looks a nice girl’ and ‘she looks a nice girl’. Irony may be a form of innuendo.
(xx) Periphrasis or Circumlocution.
This is seldom desirable. It is the trick of style used by Polonius and by bad journalists and public speakers, of saying in many words what could be better said in a few. Its use in artistic writing is generally for comic effect or euphemism. Redundancy is the use of two words where either of them carries the meaning adequately, as in ‘grateful thanks’ or ‘two equal halves’. When the two words are the same part of speech as in ‘I am thankful and grateful’ it is called Tautology. One form of Tautology that can be beautiful, is the ‘doublet’ of a Latin and Saxon word in a solemn context, which may produce a beautiful rhythm : ‘We acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickednesses.’
(xxi) Surprise Ending.
We are waiting for the end of a sentence and it is not what we expected ; this may emphasize the point ; it is fairly common as a device in English.
“Bartholomew Fair” is chiefly remarkable for ‘the exhibition of odd humours and tumbler’s tricks, and is on that account amusing to read once.’
(Hazlitt : Lectures on the English Comic Writers)
(xxii) Playful use of Colloquialism
It is possible to write a piece of prose, especially an eassy, in quite a grave and formal style, then suddenly to lighten the atmosphere by some colloquial expression. There is no special name in English for this device. Churchill’s famous ‘Some chicken !’ is one of the best imaginable examples of this device. In written prose too it usually has a mildly comic effect, or suggests that the writer feels friendly towards the reader. This is probably a colloquialism :
“They say the quickness of repartees in argumentative scenes receives an ornament from the verse. Now what is more unreasonable than to imagine that a man should not only light upon the wit, but the rhyme too, upon the sudden ? This nicking of him who spoke before both in sound and measure, is so great a happiness, that you must at least suppose the persons of your play to be born poets “.
(Dryden : Essay of Dramatic Poesy)
(xxiii) Conscious use of Cliche.
I suppose this might be classified as a form of irony. It is possible to take some expression that everyone takes for granted and repeats, often as an excuse for not thinking, and to play with it so as to expose its emptiness or falsity. Here is an example from a book of political exposition ; it is somewhat emotional as compared with the rest of the book, but very successful as the dramatic climax to a dignified argument :
‘Whenever I hear this suggestion that socialism is contrary to human nature, I want to ask the opposite question : Is capitalism contrary to human nature ? Is it contrary to human nature to give the highest pay to those who do no work at all ; to give the lowest pay to those who do the heaviest work ? Is it contrary to human nature to pay ninety percent of the population so little that they cannot buy enough to keep them-selves in employment ? Is it contrary to human nature keep several million people permanently idle, while they, and many others, lack the very goods that they ought to be producing ? Is it contrary to human nature deliberately to destroy food, clothes and many other forms of wealth, in order to render the production of further wealth profitable again ? Is it contrary to human nature so to arrange things that the only job on which men can get employment is building armaments with which to kill each other ? Is it contrary to human nature to send millions of men out to slaughter each other in order to decide who shall possess the markets of the world ? Is all this contrary to human nature ? I think it is.”
(John Strachey : Why you should be a Socialist)
The gentle modesty of the last sentence makes the climax more convincing. Cobbett is another writer who is very fond of turning some catch-phrase against his adversary. It is also possible to take some insult or invective hurled at us by an opponent and modify it for our own use.
This trick is well suited to English as we have so many cliches and familiar idioms. The writer takes a familiar expression and plays with it, taking it in its literal sense instead of in its usual metaphorical sense. This can be irritating and profane when done too often, like the mannerism of a habitual punster, but the trick can be a useful counter-attack to rhetorical devices unskilfully used. It is frequently found in humorous prose passages in Shakespeare and in some of the modern light essaylists.
Curtis : All ready ; and therefore, I pray thee, news ?
Grumio : First, know, my horse is tired, my master and mistress fallen out.
Curtis : How ?
Grumio : Out of their saddles into the dirt ; and thereby.
Curtis : Let’s halt, goad Grumio.
Grumio : (Striking him) : There.
Curtis : This is to feel a tale, not to hear a tale.
Grumio : And therefore it is called a sensible tale.
(Shakespeare : “The Taming of the Shrew”)
The first joke is literalism ; the final joke is a pun.
(The Anatomy of Prose : Marjorie Boulton)