If you want to write your own poems or gain a deeper knowledge about poetry, you must know that there are many significant components of poetry that you need to learn. Among the various aspects of poetry, one of the most difficult things to master and analyze is rhythm.
So, what is rhythm in poetry anyway?
Isn’t it every word that has more than one syllable is composed of stressed and unstressed syllables? When words of varying stress are combined to form verses, and these verses form stanzas, certain patterns of sounds which are called “rhythms” will become evident. Simply put, rhythms are patterns of sounds or stresses in a poem.
Why is Rhythm Important in Poetry?
Upon learning the simple answer to the question, “What is rhythm in poetry?” it is also deemed necessary for you to know what the purpose of using it is, and why it is an important component of poetry. First off, you must realize that poetry is usually intense and full of emotions. Be it joy, hatred, affection, or any other type of emotion, rhythm can surely help in expressing this.
Aside from establishing the tone or the mood of the poem, rhythm can also set the appropriate speed. By adjusting the rhythm, you can obviously make it fast or slow depending on the gravity of the poem. Lastly, you probably already know that some types of poetry are made for singing, thus, rhythm is a very important aspect of musicality in pieces of poetry.
Definition of Important Terms
This article that aims to explain poetic rhythm, won’t be complete without providing the definition of the different terms related to rhythm. As mentioned earlier, stressed and unstressed syllables can be joined together in different combinations to form patterns. Of course, there are formal terminologies that refer to these various combinations, and the most common ones are:
- Iamb- This refers to a combination of one unstressed and one stressed syllable. When the verses of a poem contain this kind of combination, it’s called “iambic.”
Examples of iamb: today, collapse (first syllable= unstressed; second syllable= stressed)
- Trochee- If an iamb has an unstressed first syllable followed by a stressed one, a trochee is the complete opposite—the first syllable is stressed while the second one is unstressed. When the verses of a poem have this kind of combination, it’s called “trochaic.”
Examples of trochee: pizza, rhythm (first syllable= stressed; second syllable= unstressed)
- Anapest- This is composed of three syllables wherein the first and second syllables are unstressed, and the third one is stressed. When this combination appears and repeats in the verses of a poem, it’s called “anapestic.”
Examples: but of course, anapest (first syllable= unstressed; second syllable= unstressed; third= stressed)
- Dactyl- If the opposite of iamb is trochee, the opposite of anapest is dactyl, wherein the first syllable is stressed while the second and third are not. When this combination appears and repeats in the verses of a poem, it’s called “dactylic.”
Examples: substitute, honestly (first syllable= stressed; second syllable= unstressed; third= unstressed)
Aside from the terminologies mentioned above, there are also terms used to describe how many times a specific combination was repeated in each of the verses of the poem. These are:
- Monometer= once
- Dimeter= twice
- Trimeter= thrice
- Tetrameter= four times
- Pentameter= five times
- Hexameter= six times
- Heptameter= seven times
- Octameter= eight times
So for instance, the lines of the poem have five iambs, the poem can therefore be classified as an iambic pentameter. If the verses of the poem are composed of four trochees, it is called a trochaic tetrameter.
Examples of Poems
Apart from answering the question, “What is rhythm in poetry?” and defining the terms that revolve around this concept, there are also some examples of poems that make use of the different kinds of rhythmic patterns below:
Iambic: Dr. Faustus (by Christopher Marlowe), Twelfth Night (by William Shakespeare)
Trochaic: Songs of Innocence (by William Blake), General William Booth Enters into Heaven (by Vachel Lindsay)
Anapestic: Twas The Night Before Christmas (by Clement C. Moore), The Sick Rose (by William Blake)
Dactylic: The Charge of the Light Brigade (by Alfred Lord Tennyson), The Voice (by Thomas Hardy)
After reading this article that answers the question, “What is rhythm in poetry?” it is more likely that you will find this concept clearer now and will also be able to apply the knowledge you gained in writing your own piece of poetry. Although the whole concept of rhythm may seem technical and complicated, especially with all the jargon, do not get too intimidated by this. Just remember that rhythm is a completely natural thing that you encounter in your everyday life. Since all words have different combinations of stressed and unstressed syllables, and these words create some sort of pattern when you string them together, that means you actually use rhythm in all the things you say or write even if you don’t seem to notice it.