The Poetics of Robert
Frost - Examples
Sing You One-O
- Nothing Gold
- Can Stay
Out Far Nor In Deep
Road Not Taken
with the Night
Once Then, Something
- Frost is often noted as a metricist.
He said, "I would sooner write free verse as play tennis
with the net down." Metered verse has prescribed rules as
to the number and placement of syllables used per line. The meter
of any poem is based on the predominant or prevailing meter.
It is not required that every line be the same number and pattern.
As in other poetics, Frost followed the rules and broke the rules.
- The English language falls naturally
into iambic patterns of accent or stress. Meter governs the placement
of accents and the length of the line. Meter can be diagramed
to examine these elements, which is called scansion. We scan
the poem to discover the placement of accents. This helps us
to read the poem correctly. Meter has a great influence on the
flow and rhythm of the poem. Remember the TV advertisement where
Ringo Starr asks, "Too many syllables?" Knowing how
to manipulate meter is the essence of song-writing and rap (for
those of you into that scene). A knowledge of meter helps one
to write good sentences, especially in speech-writing. Meter
makes it flow.
- In poetry, Meter is determined
by how many "feet" are written per line. Look at the
foot at the end of your leg.
A "foot" is the basic unit of measure, usually containing
2 or 3 syllables, a combination of accented and unaccented. A
foot must have an accent. It's like music, the accent is used
instead of the beat to make the rhythm. Say the lines below out
loud and listen to the accents:
Dimeter: the line has two feet (the WAY a CROW)
Trimeter: the line has three feet (NA-tures first GREEN is GOLD)
Tetrameter: the line has four feet (whose WOODS these ARE i THINK i KNOW)
Pentameter: the line has five feet (SOME-thing there IS that DOES-n't LOVE a WALL )
Hendecasyllabics has 11 syllables per line. It is very unusual and Frost wrote only one poem in this meter.
- English meters are almost always
one of these 5 patterns.
- 1) Iambic: 2 syl - first unaccented,
second accented ( - !) in LEAVES no STEP (two iambics)
2) Trochee 2 syl - first accented, second unaccented ( ! -
) SOME-where AG-es (two trochee)
3) Spondee: 2 syl - both accented ( ! ! ) TWO ROADS. even
though there are two accents, a spondee is one foot.
- In an Iamb, two syllables make
up a "foot" (picture the foot at the end of your leg).
Each step you take puts a "foot" down, a series of
feet form the line of poetry. It's just like walking. This is
what makes the rhythm. Frost often walked as he mentally composed
his poetry. The footsteps made the beat. Get up and walk and
say "whose WOODS these ARE i THINK i KNOW. That's perfectly
- 4) Anapest: 3 syl - first and
second unaccented, third accented ( - - !)
with a SIGH. (one anapest)
- 5) Dactyl: 3 syl - first accented,
second and third unaccented (! - - )
- one trav - el / (er)
- These three syllables make up
a "foot", but the triplet is more like your finger.
Your finger is in three pieces.
- Frost said, "There are
only two meters "strict and loose iambic." In his terms,
strict would be 1-2-3 (above) and loose would be 4-5. Iambic
meter includes the trocaic inversion and spondee. Anapest and
dactl are considered variations of iambic meter.
- Let's try to scan it. Remember
there can be differences in the way we hear the poem.
First I always count the syllables in each line. The "meter"
of the poem will be the prevailing meter.
- Frost almost never wrote one
meter throughout. Say this outloud but don't exaggerate the accents
too much - it is supposed to be conversational. Stop and listen
after the slashes to what you pronounced and you should hear
it. The slash separates the feet in scansion. The Road Not Taken
is written in tetrameter - 4 feet per line.
- (Go back to
The Road Not Taken
! ! - ! - - ! - !
Two roads / di verged / in a yel / low wood .......4 feet:
(spondee) (iambic) (anapest) (iambic)
- ! - - ! - ! - !
And sor / ry I could / not trav / el both........ 4 feet
( iambic ) (anapest) (iambic) (iambic)
- ! ! - - - ! - !
And be / one trav el / er long / I stood .........4 feet
(iambic) (dactyl) (iambic) (iambic)
- ! - ! - ! - - !
And looked / down one / as far / as I could .......4 feet
(iambic) (iambic) (iambic) (anapest)
- ! - ! - - ! - !
To where / it bent / in the un / der growth.......... 4 feet
(iambic) (iambic) (anapest) (iambic)
- Anapest meter is quicker and
lighter than iambic. The spondee on TWO ROADS reinforces the
equal value of each road, just as the poem says. Frost liked
getting this sort of thing to work out. Watch how his metrics
reinforce the meaning of the poem. In some pieces, Frost deliberately
mixes the meter from line to line for dramatic effect, as in
Storm Fear where the short lines reinforce the fury of the storm.
Frost created beautiful images in his poetry, with lovely rhymes
and humanistic philosophy. Isn't it is just amazing that the
number of syllables work out too!
- The only way to learn meter
is to do it! It takes some work, but there is no faking it. Remember
that we can hear the poem differently, but Frost was a great
master at making you say his lines in a certain way. The sense
of his poems drive the sound so that most of us say the poem
intuitively with the accents in the right place.
- Frost remarked over and over,
"There are only two meters in English, strict and loose
iambic." (He was speaking of iambic (strict) and the anapest
and dactyl triplet variations (loose). The stresses should come
naturally from within the word itself, as if one were speaking
common English. Frost said, "Meter alone is too limited
and monotonous to convey meaning through sound. The possibilities
for tune from the dramatic tones of meaning struck across
the rigidity of a limited meter are endless." This
is what makes Frost's poetry memorable. (Review tune)
Birches: "It's when
I'm weary of considerations." This line is perfect
iambic pentameter, with an extra metrical (feminine) ending.
( it's WHEN i'm WEAR - y OF con - SID - er - A (tions). There
are 5 metrical beats on the line. The tune of the line impels
extra stress on the word weary. The meaning and context make
you say the line in a "tune" over the meter. Say it
outloud in a natural way and hear the way weary stands
- (Go back to
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