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There are many different patterns in poetry. The most common in English poetry is the iambic pentameter.

This means that there are strong and soft syllables alternating back and forth in the line, usually, but not always, five of each.

A common example of 4 iambic feet:

What light through yon-der win-dow breaks?

*The stressed syllables are in bold.


The general name for the rhythm of poetry is called prosody. You may doubt this, because the word prosody sounds like 'prose', and prose is thought of as non-poetic English narrative. The patterns alluded to above, iambic pentameter and the rest, come from an analysis of Greek verse, and for centuries the thought has been that these Greek structures represented the best way to write/scan lines of English verse for their rhythmic characteristics. It goes without saying that a huge volume of the highest quality poetry has been written in English with a general respect for these Greek forms. But it does not take long to see that brilliant poetry bends the 'expected' forms, and the result is a prosody that is more natural to the English tongue. Shakespeare himself does this constantly, with varying degrees of restraint, always maintaining the shapes of lines as if they were the most beautifully written music. There are many forms, like Heroic Verse, that pay little heed to the classical Greek forms, and there is much poetry that rests upon a subtle and changing prosody that is still discernable as rhythmically coherent, and more intimately connected to the language of the verse itself. We are well beyond the point where the classical forms are considered necessary.

It is easy to understand how the ancient forms may not always serve English verse particularly well; they were developed within the context of the Greek language. Very often, when people read poetry aloud, they will make it sound stilted and artificial. They believe they must 'serve' the structure by almost singing the stress patterns, by making lines end-stopped even when they are not, and by falling into an unchanging tempo. Everyone has heard poetry read this way, in the style of greeting card doggerel. On the other hand, these two lines of Shakespeare show that it would be impossible for any thinking person to be slavish to the forms. Imagine hearing the first line below 'forced' into a lilting iambic pentameter. The second line is nearly perfect iambic pentameter. It's the contrast in prosody that gives the lines life.

What's in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.

In part it is the skill with which a writer can play upon the ear with the deep and subtle music of prosody that marks her/him as a great writer.

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โˆ™ 2009-12-30 22:34:36
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Q: What is the rhythmic pattern in poetry?
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