During National Poetry Month, we discussed accentual verse then syllabic verse. Combined, they make accentual syllabic verse, which uses feet as the basic means of measuring lines for the ever-popular forms of traditional metered poetry.
To define this classical but versatile measuring stick often used for sonnets, villanelles, and other fixed forms of poetry, I’ve tried to make it simple enough for me to remember and elementary school children to learn. Hopefully, you fit somewhere in-between and might enjoy other entries in the Poetry Dictionary For Children and For Fun as shown by the capitalized words below.]
accentual syllabic verse [Pronounced ack-SIN-chew-uhl suh-LAB-ick.] This type of poem has been a favorite for hundreds of years. Yet accentual syllabic verse is not the oldest poetry. ACCENTUAL VERSE is older. SYLLABIC VERSE is too. Those names sound hard at first, but they mean just what they say. In accentual verse, you count the ACCENTS on each line. In syllabic verse, you count the SYLLABLES. Put the two together like peanut and jelly, and yum! You have accentual syllabic verse.
To write your poem in accentual syllabic verse, count the accents and the syllables on each line. The problem is, it’s hard to count two things at once! So someone began to measure in FEET. Hopefully you have two, but poetry uses six feet to make its sounds.
The most common foot in accentual syllabic verse is the IAMB. That foot has two syllables. The first syllable is not stressed. The second one is. So an iambic foot is UPBEAT: ta DA!
Much of our TRADITIONAL VERSE has five iambs on each line. You can learn more about that in the entries for BLANK VERSE, IAMBIC PENTAMETER, and SCANSION. For now though, let’s use two iambs per line to make our example easier to count.
i AM/ too GLUM./
you ARE/ a CHUM!/
this RHYME/ is DUMB!/
See how each foot has one syllable that is stressed and one that is not? A slant mark / divides the feet. Capital letters show the accents. That’s it! For practice, think of two-syllable words to make a single iamb. Or think of two one-syllable words for iambic feet.