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Stephen Fry on Meter, Part 3

As I mentioned previously, I’m working through Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled very slowly to absorb as much wisdom as I can about writing poetry. This week’s post covers Chapter 1, Section 3, on other meters.

After sections on iambic pentameter and variations, this section introduces lines with fewer than or more than five “feet.” While a lot of those meters aren’t necessarily used for an entire poem, some can be, and others can be used as a variation to highlight a portion of the poem. It also covers hypermetric lines (an iambic line that ends with a “bonus” weak syllable) and catalectic subtraction (a trochaic line that is clipped or docked of the final weak syllable).

The section also includes a bit on mixed feet, again with the idea of bringing more attention to a portion of the poem, as well as changing things up so the poem flows better. The exercise in this section (there’s only one this time) involves writing tetrameter and trimeter and playing with catalectic subtraction. I’m not sure yet if my attempts at this will turn into poems that I want to publish, though I always feel a bit silly about some of my exercise lines because they are just sort of on whatever random topic I come up with. But here’s one of the exercises: the first of my two quatrains of iambic tetrameter.

The workers stop their tasks two days
a week, but wish their labors ceased
more time than that. To streets they flock
to ask a shorter day or week.

The second quatrain needs a little bit more work because I can’t decide if toil can be a single syllable or not. I really want it to be, though!

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