Tackling Metrics #5 – Variation and The Meaningful Beat

Ciardi – big surprise, huh?

Vital to understanding the metrics of a poem is the balance between the regular meter, the mechanical beat, and the natural stresses of spoken English, the meaningful beat.

The stress of the mechanical beat often works against both the natural stresses of spoken English and stresses created by the poem’s syntax, structure, or meaning (all parts of the meaningful beat). Three points vital to understanding these natural, and necessary, variations:

-A line may have more or fewer meaningful than mechanical stresses.

-The stresses of the mechanical and of the meaningful scansions do not always coincide. The grammatical context, determining as it does the voice emphases of the spoken language (meaningful stress) is never entirely separable from metrics.

-The mechanical and the meaningful stresses may coincide precisely. When this happens in a poem, it is considered a smooth line or a rest line. These lines set the overall beat of the poem, and are often used to create a moment of rest or calm in a poem driven by variations in pace.

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