Poetry basics to get you started

If you’re a poet you’ve probably heard of meter and rhyme – even toddlers know about rhyme – but you might not know exactly how they work. If you’re just toying with the idea of poetry, knowing about meter and rhyme might help you establish your style.


Meter measures rhythm by emphasis on syllables – stressed and unstressed syllables. A unit of stressed and unstressed syllables is called a foot.

The pattern of “feet” involves words that have to be written in italics, such as:

  • Iambic
  • Trochaic
  • Anapestic
  • Dactylic

Iambic foot has the emphasis on the second syllable, like Lan-CE-lot. Creative Writing Now (CWN) explains it simply as bah-BAH.

Trochaic foot is the opposite with the emphasis on the first syllable, like CON-crete or BAH-bah.

Anapestic foot has emphasis on the third syllable, like ded-i-CAT-e or bah-bah-BAH.

Dactylic foot is the opposite with the emphasis on the first of three syllables, like WED-nes-day or BAH-bah-bah.

You also get spondaic foot – two stressed syllables – and pyrrhic foot – two unstressed syllables.

The other thing about meter is that word count matters. It starts with monometer – one foot per line – and just keeps going. The last example mentioned by CWN is heptameter – seven feet per line.

Despite its emphasis on, well, emphasis, meter doesn’t dictate the real rhythm of the poem. How poems are read depends very much on the reader, as well the use of punctuation and the overall tone of the poem.


It’s important to note that not all poems rhyme, but when they do rhyme, they follow a rhyme scheme. As one would expect there are a number of rhyme schemes.

  • End rhyme: this pretty self-explanatory; it’s when the last words of certain lines rhyme. These can be the first two lines, the second and fourth lines or any other combination.
  • Internal rhyme: is also pretty self-explanatory; it’s when two words within one line rhyme – usually, but not always, at an intentional pause or break.
  • Slant rhyme: relies on similarity by association rather than “true rhyme”. CWN is more technical when it refers to assonance and consonance. So similar vowel sounds, like cheap and beat, are used or similar consonant sounds, like take and lack.

Daily Writing Tips (a fabulous resource) also lists:

  • Rich rhyme: which uses words that sound that same but mean completely different things, like bear and bare.
  • Eye rhyme: words that look the same but don’t sound the same, like, and I quote the example given on Daily Writing Tips, Shakespeare’s most famous sonnet:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

  • Identical rhyme: simply using the same word twice.

One more thing on rhyming patterns: rhyming line patterns are determined with the letters a-d. Each line receives an appropriate letter. So you can get abab, or aabb cc dd, or acbd …etc.

Happy writing.


(Image by rick, CC by 2.0, via Flickr)


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