Scansion is the process of analyzing a poem's metrical pattern. When a poem is scanned, its stressed and unstressed syllables are marked to show what poetic feet are used and how many feet appear in each line. Each accented syllable is marked with a diagonal slash above it. Each unaccented syllable is marked with a shallow "u" above it . You indicate one foot by separating the word(s) or syllables with this vertical symbol: | . You indicate the end of a line with this symbol: /. The stanza ends with this symbol: //. So you may see the difference between accented and unaccented syllables, this screen will show the accented syllables in bold and the unaccented in normal text.
"Meter" is defined as a generally regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in poetry. The basic unit of meter is the "foot." Lines are further described in terms of the number of feet that occur in them, as follows:
- Monometer: verse written in one-foot lines
- Dimeter: verse written in two-foot lines
- Trimeter: verse written in three-foot lines
- Tetrameter: verse written in four-foot lines
- Pentameter: verse written in five-foot lines
- Hexameter: verse written in six-foot lines
- Heptameter: verse written in seven-foot lines
"Foot" is defined as the unit used to measure the meter, or rhythmic pattern, of a line of poetry. A foot consists of one stressed syllable and, usually, one or more unstressed syllables. A line of poetry has as many feet as it has stressed syllables. The following types of feet are common in poetry written in English:
Iamb: da DA
Trochee: DA da
Anapest: da da DA
Dactyl: DA da da
There are variants or "lesser" beats whose usage often depends on how a person pronounces the word(s) or on where the syllables fall in a specific line. The above highlighted rule does not apply here.
Spondee: DA DA
Pyrrhic: da da
Amphibrach: da DA da
Amphimacer: DA da DA
A stanza is a group of lines in a poem, considered as a unit. Many poems are divided into stanzas that are separated by spaces. Stanzas often function just like paragraphs in prose. Each stanza states and develops a single main idea. Stanzas are commonly named according to the number of lines found in them, as follows:
Couplet: a two-line stanza
Tercet: a three-line stanza
Quatrain: a four-line stanza
Cinquain: a five-line stanza
Sestet: a six-line stanza
Heptastich: a seven-line stanza
Octave: an eight-line stanza
Some additional definitions are useful in discussing poetry:
- Caesura: A break or pause in a line of poetry which contributes to the rhythm of the poem.
- Blank verse: poetry written in unrhymed iambic pentameter. Take me there.
- Free verse: unrhymed verse that has either no regular metrical pattern or an irregular pattern. Take me there.