Meter-Made Moods—dVerse Meeting the Bar
Anyone who has joined me on Goodreads knows that I’m a bit of an addictive reader—the kind that has five or so books on the “Currently Reading” list. This is because I scatter books throughout the house in strategic locations—the kind that can be read in short spurts—for example, during a muted TV ad or, yes, where many of you might keep magazines. One of these is a re-read of Mary Oliver’s “A Poetry Handbook”—a guide for beginners (that’s all of us) on understanding and writing poetry. This week I read a short blurb about meter and mood.
Careful reading of Oliver’s poetry allows us to see how, although she writes free verse for the most part, knowledge of rhythm and meter infiltrate her work. Reading a poem aloud helps to give a sense of this. Even prose is subject to the flow of meter.
But what has struck me in this re-read that I either didn’t catch the first time around, or totally forgot, is how meter contributes to the mood of a poem. Let’s look for examples.
Pentameter most nearly matches the breath capacity of the English-speaker making it the line most often free of special effect. There is no pressure, allowing a full phrase. This makes it the norm.
Any deviation from this neutral form emits messages. Lines shorter than pentameter create excitement—psychic and physical tension. They make the reader sit up and take notice.
Tetrameter can create agitation or vivacity depending on the topic and how we treat it. Detailed description can slow it down a bit, while skipping from action to action can leave the reader out of breath.
On the other side of the equation, six-foot lines become ponderous, suggesting power, endurance, grandiosity. Whitman and Ginsburg often turned to longer lines, the hexameter.
Another tool we can use to create mood is to alter meter. You will find good example of this in the poetry of Emily Dickinson who alternated tetrameter and trimeter to create the intensity and urgency that is characteristic of her verse.
Here’s a quick review of the more common meters—that is, lines containing feet or stressed syllables:
• dimeter: 2 feet per line (haste, joy, terror, anger)
• trimeter: 3 feet per line (gaiety, joy, fear, urgency, intensity)
• tetrameter: 4 feet per line (much like trimester, but with a bit less intensity)
• pentameter: 5 feet per line (normal, calm, serene)
• hexameter: 6 feet per line (gravity, mourning, prophecy, power)
(The suggestions are mine—choose what you think will work best. Adding or subtracting a foot should increase or decrease intensity of the emotion you want to create)
For today’s prompt, I would like you to
• think of a topic and the accompanying mood you would like to create
• choose the meter(s) you believe will help you to achieve that mood.
• write a poem using your chosen topic and meter.
You may use rhyme or not; you may alter the meter between lines or use the same meter throughout. Don’t speak to the mood you have intended to create—instead, wait to see if recognition of that mood will pop out in the comments.
To join in:
• Write your poem and post it on your site.
• Copy and paste the direct URL to your poem in Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post.
• Return to the pub to read and comment on the poetry of your fellow poets. It’s important to us that you take the time to become a part of the community through your comments.
• Let’s try to involve more poets by providing a link to this site in your post and promoting it on social media that you participate in.
Victoria, here, your hostess for today, leaving you with an example you may recognize by Shelley, who mixed up his meter to create a tone of sadness and regret:
Percy Bysshe Shelley
O world! O life! O time!
On whose last steps I climb,
Trembling at that where I had stood before;
When will return the glory of your prime?
No more Oh, never more!
Out of the day and night
A joy has taken flight;
Fresh spring, and summer, and winter hoar,
Move my faint heart with grief, but with delight
No more Oh, never more!