Author: Gregory Palermo

Gregory Palermo is an Edgar Fellow at SUNY Geneseo, where he studies English and Physics. His primary academic interests include African American literature, rhetoric, and the bridging of the humanities and sciences through the digital humanities.

Hey guys!

So I’ve been transitioning to using Markdown instead of Word’s Notebook Layout View to take my class notes.

So, here’s some of my html-coded notes from my Eighteenth-Century Lit class this morning, transcribed from Dr. Paku’s (written) explanation of how to talk about rhythm in poetry.


Terminology for discussing rhythm

  • From Abrahms:

    • Prosody: the systematic study of versification in poetry
    • Versification: the principles and practice of meter, rhyme, and stanza forms (and sometimes of sound patterning like alliteration or onomatopoeia)
    • Meter: the recurrence, in regular units (like across lines), of a prominent feature in the speech sounds of a language: more commonly, a recurrent pattern of stresses on a recurrent number of syllables, a.ka. “accentual-syllabic meter” or “stress and syllable.”

      • most often it is useful to talk about meter at the line level

      • Stresses: a.k.a. “accents”–the more forcefully uttered and hence louder syllables. When we recognize a pattern to the beat of the stresses, we have a rhythm.

      • We typically distinguish only strong (/) and weak (x) stresses, though those terms are relative and can be decided in combination with surrounding words, not absolute values (for example prepositions and pronouns and articles).

        • note that this is already a binary
      • A recognizable combination of stressed and unstressed syllables gives us a foot, which is the measure we use to make up the metric unit of a line.

      • We can describe that foot, and then describe how often the foot occurs. These two measures give us the names we use to describe meter or rhythm.
      • The most common feet and the most common number of feet per line:

        The iamb, iambic x /
        The trochee, trochaic / x
        The spondee, spondaic / /
        The pyrrhic, pyrrhic x x
        (anapest x x / and dactyl / x x)

        tetrameter 4
        pentameter 5
        hexameter 6

      • When you scan a passage, you go through line by line analyzing the meter. A scansion is the end result of scanning a passage.

      • But: scansion is not a science. When you describe rhythm, you typically also take into account 1) word rhythm, 2) grammatical function, 3) rhetorical accent (emphasis), 4) intonation/dynamics, 5) length of syllables, 6) caesura, 7) syntax and semantics (phrasal patterns), 8) expressive performance.
        • Scansion is an interpretive TOOL, not a rule.