Rhythm and Meter in English Poetry

English poetry employs five basic rhythms of varying stressed (/) and unstressed (x) syllables. The meters are iambs, trochees, spondees, anapests and dactyls. In this document the stressed syllables are marked in boldface type rather than the traditional "/" and "x." Each unit of rhythm is called a "foot" of poetry.

The meters with two-syllable feet are

Meters with three-syllable feet are Each line of a poem contains a certain number of feet of iambs, trochees, spondees, dactyls or anapests. A line of one foot is a monometer, 2 feet is a dimeter, and so on--trimeter (3), tetrameter (4), pentameter (5), hexameter (6), heptameter (7), and octameter (8). The number of syllables in a line varies therefore according to the meter. A good example of trochaic monometer, for example, is this poem entitled "Fleas":


Here are some more serious examples of the various meters.

iambic pentameter (5 iambs, 10 syllables)

trochaic tetrameter (4 trochees, 8 syllables)

anapestic trimeter (3 anapests, 9 syllables)

dactylic hexameter (6 dactyls, 17 syllables; a trochee replaces the last dactyl)

[Harry Rusche]