Finding Your Feet

Brick wall 3Rhyme and meter are the building blocks of poetry, and metric feet are the building blocks of meter. It’s important to be able to identify what kind of ‘foot’ a word has – and not just in case you’d like to write a sonnet. Understanding the metric profile of your writing style can help you develop it, understand it, and refine it as you write. Whether you’re a poet or an aspiring prose master, this list of metric types can serve as a handy reference.

  • An iamb carries its emphasis on the second syllable. “To be,” “Rotund,” and “Astride are all examples of this poetic foot, which is frequently formed across two words.
  • trochee carries its emphasis on the first syllable. Unlike the iamb, it’s easy to find a trochee that is only one word: pizza, movie, lady, pirate, hamster, driver, and soda are just the beginning.
  • With the anapest, we move into three-syllable feet; the anapest carries its emphasis on its last syllable. Like an iamb, an anapest is likely to be composed of more than one word: from the lake, condescend, tearing up, and bedding down are some examples.
  • The dactyl, the anapest’s counterpart, carries its emphasis on the first syllable. These are more likely to be one-word feet than anapests, because plenty of words like galloping, contraband, terrorize, and even Instagram fit this pattern.
  • The spondee takes us back to two-syllable feet, but with a twist: the spondee is never used to carry a line. This is largely because it’s night impossible to arrange English words in such a manner that every syllable is accented. The spondee is usually used as a gap filler, or as a label for a word that doesn’t fit in with the rest of a poem’s meter. Examples are typically an odd arrangement of syllables, but sometimes you’ll encounter a single word like humdrum or lampshade that does the job.
  • If you suspect that the trochee might be a two-syllable foot with both words unstressed, then you’re correct! This is a more common gap filler than a spondee, and usually shows up in explanatory phrases like “son of” and “comes from.”

It’s certainly possible to imagine poetic feet with more than three syllables, but it’s most efficient to think of them in terms of the two and three syllable feet. Armed with this knowledge, you can approach formal poetry with a handy tool for understanding and interpreting it.