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Throughout your studies of English you will often come across blank verse. Blank verse is simply poetry that does not rhyme. The difference between free verse and blank verse is that blank verse uses a consistent meter. Shakespeare's plays are written predominantly in blank verse. The reason for its popularity as a form is that the meter carries the poem along, encouraging the reader to read the next line.

There are no structural rules governing the composition of blank verse but it is a good form through which to study meter. The only point to be aware of in terms of structure is line by line. In some blank verse, each line will contain a single thought whereas in others, particularly in Shakespeare, ideas will flow between lines. Examine the example for a clearer explanation.

Meter

The predominant meter used in English poetry is iambic pentameter. This is partly because many words in English are iambs. However, it should be noted that it is not always possible for a poet to construct verse in perfect iambs and that often other feet will be used.

Let's have a closer look at feet.

Iamb (as in iambic)

Two syllables

Unstressed-stressed

 x   /
One day

Trochee (as in trochaic)

Two syllables

Stressed-unstressed

 /  x
happy

Anapest (as in anapestic)

Three Syllables

Unstressed-unstressed-stressed

 x  x   /
understand

Dactyl (as in dactylic)

Three Syllables

Stressed-unstressed-unstressed

  /  x x
Carefully

Spondee

Two Syllables

Stressed - stressed

  /    /
 Long gone

The feet that have a stressed syllable at the end, iambs and anapests, are known as rising meter. The feet that have a stressed syllable at the beginning, trochees and dactyls, are know as falling meter.

To test this, read aloud the examples in the final column. Can you hear how the accent changes?

Having discovered what feet are, we now move on to considering how these feet are used and their impact in specific lines. The first thing you need to know is meter. Meter determines how many feet there are in each line. Pentameter is a word that you will have heard of or you will hear of very soon. Pentameter means that there are five feet in the line. Notice that 'penta' is a prefix that denotes five - pentagon (five sides and five angles), pentagram (five-sided star). In the case of meter it means five feet. Iambic pentameter means that there are five iambs in a line. This is the most common meter that you will come across.

If there were five feet of trochees it would be trochaic pentameter; dactyls, dactylic pentameter and so on. If there were three feet pentameter would change to trimeter. Here are the most common meters:

Number of feet

Prefix

Metre

3

Tri-

Trimeter

4

Tetra-

Tetrameter

5

Penta-

Pentameter

6

Hexa

Hexameter

 


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