LESSON II. What Is Meter?

LESSON II. What Is Meter?

A Lesson by Richard 🍃

Is meter in poetry necessary? Why is meter important?


II. What Is Meter & Why Is It Important?
Richard W. Jenkins ©2019

English is possibly the most difficult language of all in which to write poetry.

   Unlike other languages, it does not have a rhythm or a natural rhyme … so, in this age of fast everything's, and in the haste to write poetry, it is possibly the reason why meter and rhyme has become ignored and free form is so popular.

   I am not saying that Poetic Prose, Free Verse, or Free Style are any less poetry than metered and rhyming poetry.

   What I am saying is that poetry is a skill and takes time to master, regardless the form. Not only does it take time to learn the physical/technical skills of writing, but also the mental skills that separate the master from the apprentice, or the genius from the mundane.

   Free Form poetry, in the hands of a skilled wordsmith, has the potential to be amazing poetry, because of its freedom of format and to express and illuminate thought, feeling, emotion, and metaphorical imagery, etc; but, unless the wordsmith has the properly prepared skill and training, the majority of it is not even potentially fit for greeting cards.



   Without meter, poetry has no rhythm, flow, or musicality, etc; those very aspects of poetry that make it smooth and enjoyable to the mind's-eye appeal of most every reader.

   You'll often hear of "metered and unmetered poetry" … but, in fact, all well-written poetry has a certain kind of meter, tempo, rhythm, or flow, even Free Verse and Prose, or it would take-on a jerky, disjointed, stuttering, tripping feel when read aloud or internally.

   When one says, "metered", they are typically referring to lines composed in a set number of syllables, such as the Ballad, which is composed in Quatrain form (4-line verses) of eight-syllables, six-syllables, eight-syllables, and six-syllables, correctly displayed thusly: 8/6/8/6, which gives the lines a consistent, even, rhythm and flow of up and down beat or tempo.

  To illustrate this, let's examine two verses … one unmetered and one metered … both expressing the same meanings:


Rhythms softly flowing are all right there inside my heart

only that you and I can ever really hope to hear.

And we will be promised a whole eternity

that we can hold onto all those little things so dear.


Soft rhythms flow within my heart

no one but us can hear.

We're promised an eternity

for all that we hold dear.

   Now, compare the two verses: The first verse would be composed by a novice, unenlightened in the finer nuances of how to compose elegant poetry, and it reads rather awkwardly and complicated in spots, wordy, and disjointed in flow. Whereas, the second verse, as you can easily see, has a natural-feeling flow to its lines, is well-structured in 8/6/8/6 count, where there is order, is less complicated, easier to read and understand, and is more conservative in wording than verse one, composed in 13/12/11/14  counts.

   This example is not unrealistic, as the first verse would be written by a novice, passionate in their emotions, but unenlightened in the finer nuances of how to compose smoothly flowing poetry … the second by a skilled and educated poetry writer, with a refined knowledge of rhythm, meter, and musicality.

   For instance, if I were reviewing the first verse, and said the things I just did about it, I would not be unfairly criticizing, but stating facts pertaining to it … though, I would never actually put it in that harsh a manner to a poetess or poet of their earnest work. But, you get my drift here, I'm sure.

   Next, let's consider some Free Verse: A poetic form free of rhymes that has no set meter (pay close attention to the word "set").

   We'll again study two different verses expressing the same thing:

You love bubble baths and

I know why you do

It's because they bring

you joy,

plus, they leave a sly

smile making the corners

of your mouth curl up, too –

bubble baths are

playful, inviting,

and they are seductive,

enticing you to slip

down slowwwly

into the warm,

embracing water …

I know why you love bubble baths!

It's the joy they bring,

the sly smile they leave

curling at the corners of your mouth –

playful, inviting, seductive,

as you slip slowwwly down …

   As you can see, verse one is involved and complicated, more like talking, wordy and lacking in natural flow and rhythm … while verse two is more condensed, simplified, and free-flowing.

   Although, Free Verse poetry has no "set" meter, it has flow, rhythm, and line-breaks (a natural place in a line that enjambs or breaks on to the next line, most often where, in normal conversation, there would be a breath or a comfortable instant where the rhythm of speech would normally pause); effectively, serving the same basic purpose or premise as metered poetry – to keep the rhythm and flow smooth and even … except, in Free Verse poetry, the natural line-breaks (along with syntax and diction) determine the meter/rhythm, flow, etc.

   As illustrated, verse one has unnatural line-breaks in awkward places, while verse two displays its line-breaks naturally and smoothly in places so as not to interrupt/trip the reader's natural rhythm and flow of concentration, thought, feeling, and so forth.

   From this, we can come away with the understanding that there is structured and unstructured meter; though, technically, this is an incorrect description. But, as poets, we now know better, eh? ; )

Kinds of Poetic Meter

   There are numerous kinds of poetic meters, the most basic being Free Meter: simply syllable counts per line, as opposed to set pattern of cadence or impressed beat as those specified in Blank Verse or Sonnets, which are composed in an exact meter (iambic pentameter [short/LONG vowel] 10-count meter), which requires considerably more practice and skill than Free Meter.

   Here is an example verse of Free Meter Poetry in 8/6/8/6 count:

Feeling it fall upon my hand,

a teardrop soft and warm;

not the usual salty tear,

it fell there to inform.

FEELing it FALL upON my HAND,

a TEARdrop SOFT and WARM;


it FELL there TO inFORM.

(lowercase syllables unstressed/STRESSED syllables in uppercase)

   As you can see, in Free Meter format there is no particular order requirement to un-stress or STRESS short/LONG vowel sounds.

   Here is the same verse in required "set" meter unstressed/STRESSED (short/LONG vowel sounds) in Sonnet Meter (iambic pentameter 10-count meter):

In feeling ~ felt it fall upon my hand,

a teardrop from my cheek fell soft and warm;

'twas not the common salty tear to land,

I knew at once, it fell there to inform.

in FEELing ~ FELT it FALL upON my HAND

a TEARdrop FROM my CHEEK fell SOFT and WARM;

'twas NOT the COMmon SALTy TEAR to LAND,

i KNEW at ONCE, it FELL there TO inFORM.

   Below, is a handy chart I created for my poetry class students that you might want to copy and print for your own use and easy reference when writing "set" meter poems.

   There are many metered forms of poetry; these are just simple examples to illustrate what meter/flow/rhythm is and why it's so important when composing more refined, exemplary poetry correctly, and there are many variations of meter.

   Some forms require shorter or longer meter, some a mixture of meter, and others ascending or descending meter … the world of poetry is virtually endless.

   You can spend a lifetime learning, practicing, and enjoying the art of metered poetry, and never know a dull moment while immersed in the wonder of it all.


Be sure to ask any questions you might have, and/or to discuss anything

you believe is incorrect in my lessons or which you disagree with.

Dialogue is the best way to properly learn and understand.

I am "always" open for discussion. : )

Please, share your thoughts and leave feedback, as this is
the only way I know if I've done poorly or well, and
I need your input to learn and grow from.
Thank you for reading my lessons.
(Don't forget to check out
my Blogs on poetry.)
Anything else you'd
like lessons on?
Let me know.

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Posted 3 Months Ago

Thank you, Dear Margie, for your well-wishes,
I, too, truly and sincerely wish the same for You and your darling, loving, and furry little friends.

Aw, I've affectionately and fondly grown used to you over the years, your joshing and needling ways … I find them now to be part of your many charms. ; )

I knew, if anyone, it would be You who grasps the core idea and essence of what I was trying to say with all that pontification. I guess I say it in so many variables, because one may get it one way, while another will see it in some other.

Of course, you and I both know there are poetic forms that require a strict "meter", too, eh(?), even though they may all dance most appealingly to a smooth, jaunty, or flowing, etc; rhythm.
I really enjoy how You said it best, though.

If you ever feel like taking the time, please, browse through my other Lessons and/or Blogs … I'd love your input on any or all of it.

Thank you for your visit, Margie, and your participation, and most certainly for sharing your always keen input.
Smiles 'n hugs, M'Dear Friend! ⁓ Richard 🍃

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Posted 3 Months Ago

Richard, first let me say that I hope you & your loved ones are all safe & healthy. I almost didn't click on this becuz I have a running joke that I never use the word "meter" when I review. I stay away from meter and I call it rhythm becuz I am not into the laborious rules of meter as you have so earnestly (if not somewhat tediously) set them out here for those who are into self-torture & contortion, which I am not. That is to say, I could not plow thru this, but I know many people do & they appreciate it, so just enjoy my kidding & do not be defensive please.

Now for my point. The thing I really love about this piece is how you start out with the thing that I find to be the crux of the matter . . . that ALL good poetry has cadence or musicality or rhythm & you explain & compare this using some free verse, all done with brilliant clarity. (((HUGS))) Fondly, Margie

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Posted 3 Months Ago

Hello, Dear Carolynn 🌟

How delightful to discover you've shared my little lesson on meter, not that I think you needed it … I've read a number of your finely rendered Ballad pieces, enough to know you already "get it".

"I now feel the need to edit all my poems :)"
You're sooo cute! I just love your sassy sense-of-humor. 😃

When time and desire allow, keep on reading … there may be something amongst my Blogs or Lessons you "really" could use or find helpful.

Big HUG 'n many thanks, Purdy Lady! ⁓ Richard 🍃

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Posted 3 Months Ago

Thank you so much for sharing all this with me and obviously many others :) I now feel the need to edit all my poems :)

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Posted 4 Months Ago

Hey, Robert! 🙃

It's great to see ya this morning, and to read your thoughtful words of gratifying encouragement and appreciation … thank you so very much for your kindness, and for loving anything about me.

As far as sharing my knowledge and skills with others, I know you understand how passion and commitment leave little choice … that, in reality, it's so compelling to persevere in preserving the art of poetry for future generations to learn and enjoy. Simply put, I cannot help but give to all, and in doing so, to give it my best effort.

Plus, teaching is a natural calling … something I've never been able to resist. By my very nature, I love helping others; especially, those like You who are so willing and appreciative. 😏

Thank you ever-so warmly, My Fine Friend, for sharing your kind and gracious heart! ⁓ Richard 🍃

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Posted 4 Months Ago

Hi, Tim! : )

I am so glad to see you here, My Good Friend.
Well, in as much that 8/6/8/6 count is a Ballad meter, it would follow that it is meant to create somewhat of a sing-song effect.
That "it's good to deviate somewhat from the pattern" may or may not be "good"; it may trip, stumble, or interfere with a reader's ongoing concentration in internal musicality, creating a sudden break, stint, stumble, or awkwardness that ruins an otherwise captive spell, all depending on syntactic flow and/or rhythm change, due to a break in meter.
One thing is for certain, if the 8/6/8/6 meter is altered, it will no longer be a Ballad, but then will become and Un-Metered Quatrain.
This is why I say one should decide what form befits what they wish to compose in that will best convey their intent, mood, thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc; before beginning.

By virtue of the smooth, steady flow and tempo its format creates throughout, the Ballad meter appeals to most, but not all Ballads are necessarily so "sing-songy" … as you put it.
Below, are three Ballad examples illustrating this idea, none of which you’ve read, or at least not reviewed; so, they should be interesting studies for you on your premise:

Old Love (second thoughts)

Less Sing-songy:
Love’s Ambling Seasons ⁓ (poignance)

Barely Sing-songy:
E N I G M A (upon the path)

Note: (clickable URL links will not display here; so, for your convenience, I've messaged them to you on these three Ballad examples).

Any further discussion on this will happily be welcomed, Dear Tim.
With You, there is always something interesting and enjoyable. 🤔
Thank you for joining-in! ⁓ Richard 🍃

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Posted 4 Months Ago

This is precisely one of the things I love about you Richard, your willingness to share and the generosity to teach! I love these lessons you took such pains to pen for others!

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Posted 4 Months Ago

G'Day, Lady Em 🔆

You are sincerely welcome.
How encouraging it is you've studiously taken your valuable time with one of my earnest poetry lessons.
Being one of our premiere poetesses, I am truly honored to have your presence here, to say the least.
Furthermore, that you have discovered value in this treatise on poetic meter makes my humble efforts all the more worthwhile; I am thrilled to know you've taken away something of benefit for your own needs.
Proud, indeed, I would be if you were to further partake of my additional lessons and/or blogs.

I most gratefully thank You, as-well! ⁓ Richard 🍃

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Posted 4 Months Ago

In 8/6/8/6, I've heard it's good to deviate somewhat from the pattern so as not to sound sing songy. True?I'm sure some of mine do.

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Posted 4 Months Ago

Hello, again. This is advice i really need to take, a blatherer even when messaging, tis obvious that
'less is more. So, make the important words sing out smoothly.

Will come back to the above, it's well needed lesson! Thank you, sir. (Other guidance will be read over time. Is late here.)

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Added on April 27, 2019
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