Master Class in Meter

Timothy Steele

In “The Figure a Poem Makes,” Robert Frost observes, “The first mystery was how a poem could have a tune in such a straightness as meter.” Our workshop will address this mystery and explore ways that poets harmonize the variable rhythms of speech with the fixed units of meter. As Frost notes in his essay, the measures of English-language verse are “virtually but two, strict iambic and loose iambic,” and we shall focus on these fundamental modes. However, we shall also consider the secondary meters like trochaic, anapestic, and dactylic. We shall give special attention to those techniques (e. g., using words and phrases of different accentual shapes and lengths, varying sentence types, introducing metrical substitutions, and employing enjambment) by which we can enliven our meters and enable them to give memorability and significance to our thoughts and feelings. As time permits, we shall also explore the relation of metrics to rhetoric, in hopes of illuminating ways in which meter works cooperatively with such other compositional elements as invention, arrangement of argument, diction, and figures of speech.


Sponsored by the Trustees of the Robert Frost Farm and the Hyla Brook Poets