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A cheat sheet/crash course in poetic meter

I am encouraged by the high volume of poems posted here, there are many good ones. I just wanted to share some basics for those who want to know something, so I have taken the trouble of posting it here. It does not include free verse.

Do let me know if i've forgotten anything important (or if you think I'm wrong or misleading) in the comments, I knocked this up quite rushed-ly.


English is a stress based language (duh). Poetry uses beats called feet. There are binary feet (important), ternary feet (fairly important) and quaternary feet (forget).

Binary feet are made up of two syllables:

An unstress then a stress = an iamb A stress then an unstress = a trochee A stress then a stress = a spondee An unstress then an unstress = a pyrrhic foot

BE WARNED! The stresses do not refer to the length of the syllable, but the strength of it.

Ternary feet:

Stress-stress-stress = Molossus weak-weak-weak = tribrach weak-weak-stress = anapaest stress-weak-weak = dactyl weak-stress-weak = amphibrach stress-weak-stress = amphimacer stress-stress-weak = antibacchius weak-stress-stress = bacchius

Depending on the number of feet in a line, the meter is given a name:

One foot = Monometer Two feet = Dimeter Three feet = Trimeter Four feet = Tetrameter Five feet = Pentameter Six feet = tall Hexameter Seven feet = Heptameter Eight feet = Slenderman Octameter

So, a line consisting of four trochees would be a trochaic tetrameter.

A line ending with a weak syllable is said to have a feminine ending (sorry girls, old-time poets were sexist). This may be natural, as in trochaic meters, or it may be "hypermetric", added onto the end.

Sometimes, a foot is substituted for another foot. For instance:

To BE or NOT to BE: THAT is the QUESTion,

That "That is" would normally be an iamb, but it is substituted for a trochee. Also, this line has a feminine ending.

A line missing its opening syllable is "acephalic".


As you should know, rhyme schemes in poetry are signified with letters: abab,cdcd etc. (NB: That etc is not part of the rhyme scheme Razz) Every letter refers to a rhyme sound.

The main rhyme forms are:

*Couplets, or aa, bb, cc. The same rhyme at the end of two consecutive lines. *Triplets, aaa, bbb, ccc. Similar to above. *Cross-rhyme, abab, cdcd, efefef. Alternating end-rhymes. *Envelope-rhyme, abba, cddc. A couplet nested inside another two rhymes.

Non-rhyming verse is known as blank verse.

Some of the kinds of rhyme there are:

*End-rhyme, where the ends of lines rhyme.
*Internal rhyme, where words in the same line rhyme.
*Assonantal rhyme, where the vowels are the same but not the consonants *Consonantal rhyme, the opposite
*Eye-rhyme, where the words look like they should rhyme, but don't (eg heard and beard)
*Rich-rhyme, where the words sound the same but have a different meaning (eg bard and barred)


A stanza of three lines is called a tercet. A stanza of four is called a quatrain, and a stanza of five is called a cinquain, six is a sixain, etc.

Shakespearean sonnets: Rhyme scheme of abab,cdcd,efef,gg. In Iambic Pentameter. Often, but not always, about love.

Petrarchan sonnets: abba,abba,cdecde. In iambic pentameter. The last sixain is usually cdecde, but it is a matter of some debate.

Ballad: Quatrains of alternating iambic tetrameter and trimeter, rhyming abab or abcb.

Limerick (duh): 2 lines of anapaestic trimeter, followed by two of dimeter, then another trimeter. The meter is fairly flexible, however. Rhymes aabba.

Villanelle: No fixed meter. Uses refrain lines, A1 and A2. Rhymes/repeats thusly: A1bA2 abA1 abA2 abA1 abA2 abA1A2

Pantoum: No fixed meter. No fixed length. repeats lines. Rhymes/repeats thusly: A1B1A2B2 B1C1B2C2 C1D1C2D2 and so on. When you want to end it, do:D1A2D2A1

Sestina: I'm not even going to try to explain this one. Look it up.

Rondelet: Uses a refrain line. Rhymes AbAabbA No fixed meter.

Triolet: No fixed meter. Uses two refrain lines. ABaAbbAB

Ballade: Also a bit complex/long. Look it up.

Roundel: No fixed meter. Uses a refrain hemistich (half-line), which ends with a b rhyme. Referred to as R. First line begins with the refrain. Rhymes/refrains R-abaR bababaR

Sapphic Ode: Cross-rhymed quatrains, three lines of Iambic Tetrameter, one line of dimeter.

Rondeau Redouble: No fixed meter. Refrains the first four lines of the poem. A1B1A2B2 babA1 abaB1 babA2 abaB2, then the first hemistich of the first line.

Spenserian Stanza: 8 lines of iambic pentameter, followed by one of iambic hexameter. Rhymes ababbcbcc.

Rondel: This one's a bit contentious. The most common form is a quatorzain (14 line poem) called a rondel prime: rhymes ABba baAB ababAB. No fixed meter.

These are all the ones I properly know about. There's still haiku, tonka, ghazal, luc bat, so on and so forth.

As I say, this was put together very quickly, so please do comment with any additions you can think of.

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