Accentual-Syllabic, Syllabic, And Accentual Meters – Understanding Poetry
October 25th, 2010 by Sam-Frea

Rhyme is the most conspicuous feature of formal poetry written in English over the last several centuries. But the most important feature, the feature that divides poetry like Milton's Paradise Lost from free verse, is rhythm.

There are three ways to establish a fixed rhythm for a poem:

1. You can count syllables.
2. You can count accents (stressed syllables).
3. You can count both syllables and accents.

The World's Greatest Father

You are no good at footie, you never score a goal
At golf, the ball never seems to goes into the hole,
You tried your hand at gardening, all the plants ended up dead.
And I have no idea what you do inside your shed! 

Photography did not last long, nor did your exercise
Then you discovered the internet, and tried that on for size,
You really seemed to like it but I do have to say,
I did not appreciate eighty emails every day! 

But there's a field where you excel and rise above the rest,
There is no competition, you really are the best!
Forget the eating nosily, nose picking and the farts,
You are the Worlds Greatest Father; your place is in our hearts! 

There is also another, less familiar, way of establishing rhythm in English poetry: counting accents rather than both accents and syllables. Some people may perceive accentual poetry as irregular, and confuse it with free verse. However, unlike free verse, accentual poetry has rules. It has a fixed number of accented (stressed) syllables per line, but the count of unstressed syllables may vary. For example, Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem Christabel is accentual poetry: every line has four stressed syllables:

Is the night chilly and dark?
The night is chilly, but not dark.
The thin gray cloud is spread on high ...

As you can see, there are four stressed syllables in every line, but the count and position of unstressed syllables vary.

Old English (Anglo-Saxon) poetry (e.g., Beowulf) was accentual rather than accentual-syllabic. More modern poets, such as Gerard Manley Hopkins and Thomas Hardy, have also written accentual poetry. The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, by J.R.R. Tolkien, is accentual poetry written in modern English, but imitating an Old Norse style

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