Meter in Poetry (Examples & Definition)

What is Meter?

The meter is the most fundamental feature of the poetry. It determines the rhythmic pattern of the verse. Meter also indicates the use of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line. The most significant feature of the meter is that, it produces the musical effect in the literary piece i.e. the poem.

The term meter derives from the ancient Greek word “metron” which means, measure. In poetry, meter defines a well-planned pattern of measuring sounds and provides the poem a specific rhythm.

Types of Meter

In English poetry, meter is categorized into different types. It is based on the number of time the feet used in a line.

A foot is the smallest division in a meter, and it contains a set of two tones, namely stressed and unstressed.

  1. Iambic Meter: It contains an unstressed syllable and is immediately followed by the stressed syllable. For example, “da-DUM”. It is almost the oldest of the meters used in the English poetry.
  2. Trochaic Meter: This kind of meter is one that includes a stressed syllable, and follows an unstressed syllable. For instance, “DUM-da”.
  3. Anapestic Meter: Anapestic Meter consists of two stressed syllables followed by one unstressed syllable. It further follows by close to a stressed syllable. For example, “da-da-DUM”.
  4. Dactylic Meter: This form of meter is referred to as dactylic meter and involves one stressed syllable and two unstressed syllables. For instance, “DUM-da-da”.

Functions of Meter

Meter can serve several functions in the poetry:

1- Rhythm and Musicality

Meter is mainly used to establish rhythm and musicality in the poems.

Among all the requirements of poetic meter, the most significant one is to generate rhythm in the poem.

Certain syllables are marked as stressed and unstressed, and reading the poem feels like listening to the verses of some song.

It can also put a poem across as more enjoyable to decipher and to chant because it helps to appeal to auditory sense.

2- Emphasis and Meaning

Meter is commonly employed to stress specific words or ideas within a poem.

Poets are able to emphasize and accentuate certain syllables which in turn makes it easier to pick up on important ideas or feelings.

In some cases, this emphasis can actually bring value to the poetry by adding layers to the language used in the poem.

3- Structure and Form

Meter is a method of organizing the content and structure of the poetry to ensure that it follows a clear layout in its presentation.

This features helps to sort everything in order and to emphasize its coherence which is important while reading the poem.

It also provides an opportunity to the poets to evaluate the forms and patterns, thus enhances its variation and complexity to their work.

4- Emotional Impact

The meter creates rhythmic patterns, which is helpful to invoke different emotions in the audience.

For instance, a fast meter creates a sense of excitement, while a slow meter may evoke feelings of grandeur and self-analysis.

Examples of Meter in Literature

Example#1

“Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:”

The poet uses iambic pentameter. This meter provides a rhythmic pattern which shows the musical nature of the poem.

The recurring rhythm highlights the main words and phrases like ‘compare,’ ‘thee,’ ‘lovely,’ ‘temperate’ to immediately understand that the focus is on the speaker’s comparison of the beloved to the summer’s day.

Furthermore, the strategic position of ‘rough winds’ interrupts the flow of iambic pentameter thereby enforcing the subject’s beauty and temperance unlike blooming buds in May.

The meter also underlines the transience of time in the line, ‘And summer’s lease hath all too short a date’ and by doing so, suggesting a solaced denial against the frailty of beauty by asserting that the beloved’s beauty will not wilt like summer.

Example#2

“The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe

“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.”

Here, the trochaic octameter been used. This meter contributes to an establishment of a rocking motion which brings the poem a more fascinating and melancholic feeling.

Thus, the truly rhythmic and monotonously persistent trochaic octameter stresses the regularity, and the dark un-wholeness of the narrator’s thoughts of knocking at the chamber door.

There are some important words and phrases such as “midnight dreary,” “weak and weary,” and “gently rapping”, which add the tone of darkness to the poem.

Further, the trochaic meter gives it a falling tone, thus adding to the suspense and impending doom.

Poe uses trochaic octameter to create a tone that creates a sense of reality in the tale being told to the reader, thus making the poem to be charged with essence in its capability to horrify.

See also: Metaphor Examples in Poetry

Example#3

“Now We Are Six” by A.A. Milne

“When I was one, I had just begun.
When I was two, I was nearly new.
When I was three, I was hardly me.
When I was four, I was not much more.
When I was five, I was just alive.
But now I am six, I’m as clever as clever.
So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.”

The excerpt employs an AABB rhyme scheme, a playful rhythm, and even musical notes at certain places to raise children’s engagement.

Every line has a metric construction that is smooth, without disturbances, and it rhymes between two lines, where each segment contains stressed and unstressed syllables.

The speaker relates a progression through the early years, each stage in a rhyming couplet (AABBCC) that augments the general mood of pacification.

The choice of anapestic and iambic meter combined by the repetition of the phrase “When I was” emphasizes a movement through time as well as gradual build-up of the speaker’s subjectivity, which finally is followed by the childlike decision to be six “for ever and ever. “

Example#4

“The Iliad” by Homer (translated by Samuel Butler)

“Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus,
that brought
Ills unnumbered upon the Achaeans.”

The excerpt is written in a dactylic hexameter, a meter used in ancient Greek epics, which means that the poem consists of a six metrical feet in every line, most often, one long syllable followed by two short ones.

The use of this meter also constructs a majestic and stately pace suitable for telling grand and epic stories.

The incantation “Sing, O goddess” sets the hallowed and rhythmic structure, thus make the reader participates actively and philosophically in the poem.

The meter regularizes Achilles’ anger and amplifies the tragedy in its catastrophic consequences to Achaean people, underlining the scale and nature of events in the portrayed war.

Example#5

“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost

“Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.”

The writer has chosen iambic tetrameter in this excerpt.

These four iambs in each line strictly give the poem the set climax of unstressed and stressed syllables.

This is helpful in creating a reflective mood of the content before moving to the next stanza that paints a rather serene setting.

This nursery rhyme is based on AABA form which retains the mathematical order of four lines that enhance the meditative time required by the speaker to stop and ponder on the woods.

The meter is rhythmic and somewhat monotonous, as if the ticking of a clock, although that seems a little too slow.

The stillness of a man lost in thought suits the overall mood of the poem, the speaker’s complete submission to the woods, and the exclusion of everything else as in the Halted Tree stop.

See also: Mood Examples in Literature

Example#6

“Break, Break, Break” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

“Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.”

The poet employs irregular meters to create a sense of turmoil and emotion.

The repetition of the word “break” creates an rhythmic tone and further adds to the poem’s sound-sculptured design.

The stressed syllables in the first line, following by pause underlines the oppressive force of the sea.

The irregular meter used in the second and third lines indicates the struggle within the speaker as he seeks to voice deep and turbulent sentiments.

Even though the two parts of the poem are quantitatively unequal, this metrical variation reflects the inherently chaotic and erratic nature of the sea and the speaker’s uncontainable feeling of longing or frustration.

Example#7

“The Destruction of Sennacherib” by Lord Byron

“The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.”


The excerpt contains anapestic tetrameter. It gives rise to an easy rolling motion which brings life to such experiences as the vivid imagery and action mentioned above.

The fact that the anapestic meter is regularly employed and hurriedly moves through the lines indicates the swift and chaotic advance of the Assyrians.

The use of rhyme scheme i.e. AABB heightens the melodic rhythm, emphasizes the contrast between the serene, natural beauty of the sea and the unstoppable advance of the Assyrian forces.

Literary Devices Related to Meter

1- Enjambment

A literary technique, wherein a line of the poetry continues without a pause or break into the next line.

This technique may give the […], thus contributing to the harmony of the meter that was set. Intentionally, it also gives suspense or even stress where the reader is forced to skip to the next line to finish reading the line.

See also Enjambment Examples in Literature

2- Caesura

A caesura is a break in mid-line. It is represented by using commas, full stops, or even the dash.

This can generate a high degree of impact, to stress certain words or phrases and to introduce variety into the meter.

Even when intended to imitate natural language, it can make the poem sound less stilted, contrived or formal.

Examples of Meter in Poetry
Examples of Meter in Poetry

To conclude, the meter serves to structure and organize the poem, as well as influencing the rhythm and tone that the poem should be read at.

The rhythmic pattern with stressed and unstressed syllables add more rhythmical appease to the poems.

It is also helpful in structuring the poem as well as an effective tool that poets can use in order to highlight certain feelings or concepts , thus, giving the work more meaning and significance.

When using different kinds of meter, obviously the poet can come up with a lot of effects which may be light and humorous to serious ones such as dignity and magnificence.

No matter the purpose of expressing the picturesque aspects of nature, the complexity of feeling, or the majesty of large stories, meter is an enduring instrument in the given poet’s toolkit.

See also: Literary Devices That Start with M

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