Hi everyone! We have a guest host today, Frank Hubeny.
A popular form used for poems, songs, nursery rhymes and ballads is common meter. It subdivides into many variations depending on where one puts the line breaks or end-rhymes and how one combines lines into stanzas, but its most basic structure is the repetition of seven pairs of unaccented-accented syllables which form an iambic, rhythmic pattern that is familiar and pleasurable to many listeners.
An example of common meter is Sarah Josepha Hale’s nursery rhyme about Mary and her lamb. I have highlighted the accented syllables and split multi-syllabic words with hyphens to illustrate the rhythmic pattern in the first stanza. Additional stanzas and a more traditional formatting may be viewed at the Poetry Foundation website:
MA-ry HAD a LIT-tle LAMB, its FLEECE was WHITE as SNOW;
and E-very-WHERE that MA-ry WENT the LAMB was SURE to GO.
Notice there are seven accented syllables that I put in CAPITALS on each line. These accented syllables are separated by a single unaccented syllable. In general there is one unaccented syllable preceding each accented syllable except for possibly the first syllable on a line. This alternation of unaccented-accented syllables sets the “iambic” rhythmic pattern of the poem. The seventh accented syllable rhymes and this rhyming leads the listener to expect groups of seven unaccented-accented pairs of syllables as the rhythmic pattern repeats itself throughout the poem.
Another example is John Newton’s hymn Amazing Grace which adds variation by introducing pauses that are also repeated. I formatted the first stanza of this song with line breaks to illustrate these pauses that the reader or singer would likely make. These pauses slow the poem down. An alternate formatting with all the stanzas may be viewed on Wikipedia:
(how SWEET the SOUND)
that SAV’D a WRETCH like ME!
i ONCE was LOST,
but NOW am FOUND,
was BLIND, but NOW i SEE.
Note that there are still seven unaccented-accented pairs of syllables, however, they are arranged in subgroups, two in the first line, two in the second line and three in the third line. These subgroups provide an additional repetitive pattern the listener will expect to hear as the song progresses. The two sets of three lines are grouped using the rhyme words “me” and “see”. This rhyming allows the listener to clearly hear where the seven-pair pattern ends without having to read the poem with its visual line breaks and other formatting.
The rhyme words could be avoided if the poem is written so that the listener is able to expect, based only on hearing the poem, where each group of seven syllables should end. Pauses at the end of the seven pairs might do this as well as rhyming words. Also repeating parts of a previous line might suggest that the previous set of seven pairs had ended. Those who find the sound of rhyme too distracting or too playful for their themes or who cannot find adequate rhyme words to express their thoughts in a natural way might try such techniques. The poem I will post and link to for this challenge does not use rhyme. It is a common meter variation sometimes called a “fourteener”.
Here’s the challenge:
Write a poem using common meter as its core structure. Think of it as a poem that will be heard rather than seen. That means feel free to format the poem any way that helps you write or read the poem, but imagine that the ideal listener will not see this formatting any more than someone listening to a symphony will see the score used by the conductor to lead the orchestra. The poem does not have to rhyme, but it should be clear to that ideal listener that there is a repetitive, rhythmic pattern of pairs of unaccented-accented syllables that suggest the poet is using common meter.
To participate in today’s MTB,
* Post your poem on your blog or website using the common meter as its core structure.
* Add the direct link to your poem into Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post and leave a comment.
* Visit, read and comment on how others have responded to this challenge.
I look forward to reading your work- Frank Hubeny
About our guest host: I live north of Chicago near Lake Michigan and I enjoy walking and taking photos. I keep a pen and notebook handy.
Thanks so much Frank for an informative session! Let’s stretch those poetic muscles folks. See you at the poetry trail. ~ Grace