Contributor: Allison Crews. Lesson ID: 13567
Understanding poetry can be a little intimidating, but learning the vocabulary of poetic devices can make it much easier to understand, appreciate, and analyze this rich literary form.
Listen to poet William Carlos Williams recite his poem "This Is Just To Say" in the video below.
William Carlos Williams - This Is Just To Say from brownmandeluxe:
Even short poems can pack big meaning into very few lines.
Read on to discover the most common devices poets use to create form and meaning in their work.
When analyzing poetry, these are the broad categories to consider:
First Things First
Before you begin, you must know the main component of poetry is the stanza. Stanzas are the paragraphs of poetry.
They are named according to the number of lines they contain. Beginning with one line, these are the names of stanzas by length:
Types of poems are often differentiated by their rhyme scheme and meter, so let's explore those next. Having a basic understanding of how to recognize rhyme scheme and common metrical forms will go a long way in strengthening your poetry analysis abilities.
These can also be two of the trickier aspects of poetry analysis to master, so let's look at each indiviually.
Rhyme scheme is a little more straightforward than meter. A poem's rhyme scheme is the pattern of rhyme in the poem.
Look at this classic folk poem as an example:
|Roses are red,|
|violets are blue.|
|Sugar is sweet|
|and so are you.|
We see that lines 2 and 4 rhyme, while lines 1 and 3 do not. When identifying rhyme patterns, each line is given a letter to indicate each unique final sound. So in this case, the rhyme scheme would be ABCB.
Here is the poem once more with the rhyme scheme annotated:
|Roses are red,||A|
|violets are blue.||B|
|Sugar is sweet||C|
|and so are you.||B|
Take a look at another example, from "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost:
|Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,|
|And sorry I could not travel both|
|And be one traveler, long I stood|
|And looked down one as far as I could|
|To where it bent in the undergrowth|
Of course, not all poems rhyme. In those instances, there is no rhyme scheme to speak of.
Meter is the rhythm created by the patterns of emphasis on the syllables in each line of a poem.
Read the following line from "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe aloud:
|Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,|
The rhythm comes from the syllabic emphasis of the words.
Syllables are either stressed or unstressed and are marked by symbols. Look at this line annotated with stress symbols:
Meter is measured in feet, which are units of 2-3 syllable patterns that repeat throughout the line.
Review some of the common stress patterns as well as the terminology for:
Types of Feet
These are the most common stress patterns:
Number of Feet
The meter of a poem is also determined by the number of feet per line. The terms for each number of feet are in order starting with 1 as follows:
When counting feet, you determine what the stress pattern of a line is and count how many times that pattern repeats.
For example, look at these two stanzas from "Birches" by Robert Frost:
|When I see birches bend to left and right|
|Across the line of straighter darker Trees...|
First, you would determine the stress pattern to be unstressed/stressed, which makes it iambic. Then, you would count how many sets of unstressed/stressed repeat in each line.
There are five sets (repeating over 10 syllables), so it is pentameter.
Now, look at the line from "The Raven" again:
In the example above, the line has eight feet (sets) of the stress pattern. The stress pattern of this foot is stressed, unstressed. This type of stress pattern is called trochaic octameter.
Sometimes, a poem will have no rhyme scheme or meter. This is called free verse.
If it is unrhymed but is written in iambic pentameter, it is known as blank verse. Shakespeare wrote his plays primarily in blank verse.
It isn't always easy to determine the meter of a poem, and whether or not the meter significantly contributes to the meaning of the poem is not always clear.
It is important to keep in mind that your primary objective when examining poetry is to look for patterns, themes, or ideas that are presented throughout the work--as well as moments when the poet might stray from those patterns.
For a great explanation of this concept with more examples, watch "What is Meter in Poetry?": A Literary Guide for English Students and Teachers from Oregon State University - School of Writing, Literature and Film:
The next step in understanding poetry terminology is identifying different types of poems.
Move on to the Got It? section to learn this vocabulary as well as connect it to your knowledge of rhyme scheme and meter.
Resources Referenced in the Lesson