Prosody in verse

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This page is a brief introduction to one aspect of the forms of poetry. It is sometimes classified as scansion, sometimes as prosody. In the USA, according to McArthur, the most common term is metrics.

The most notable forms of sound patterning in the writing of English verse, particularly what is now known as 'traditional verse', include

  • the words used to describe the different metres, or the patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables in each line (such as iambic);
    • (in some literatures, the patterns are of longer and shorter syllables, rather than stressed and unstressed - see quantitative metre)
  • the different rhymes or patterns of sounds at the ends of lines (e.g. feminine rhyme);
  • and the different combinations of metre and rhyme called verse forms (like the sonnet).

The description of the patterning of poetry occupies whole volumes, and not many students are likely to require it. If you do, then look in a good book. Philip Hobsbawm's Metre, Rhythm and Verse Form (London, Routledge, 1996) is a good introduction for those who have time to read it (it is a teaching course and a brief introduction; but it has 196 pages). For an older approach, you may (but may not) like to see A History of English Prosody from the Twelfth Century to the Present Day. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics is a handy single volume in which to find many technical terms.