Old 03-16-2014, 09:22 AM   #1
Tsotha
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Metre

Can someone please help me with this? I'm trying to understand metre, but I keep checking poems and they come up "wrong". Either I am messing up the stress markup or I don't understand how metre works.

An example. The following is a Triolet, so it's supposed to follow iambic tetrameter (four unstressed-stressed feet):

"Birds At Winter", by Thomas Hardy

A Around the house the flakes fly faster, (9 syllables)
B And all the berries now are gone' (ok)
a From holly and cotoneaster (9 syllables, not iambic)
A Around the house. The flakes fly! – faster (9 syllables)
a Shutting indoors the crumb-outcaster (9 syllables, not iambic)
b We used to see upon the lawn (ok)
A Around the house. The Flakes fly faster (9 syllables)
B And all the berries now are gone! (ok)

I've marked in bold what I think are the stressed syllables. Am I doing it wrong? If not, is this a case where the poet simply decided not to stick with the pattern throughout the piece?
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Old 03-16-2014, 11:45 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tsotha View Post
Can someone please help me with this? I'm trying to understand metre, but I keep checking poems and they come up "wrong". Either I am messing up the stress markup or I don't understand how metre works.

An example. The following is a Triolet, so it's supposed to follow iambic tetrameter (four unstressed-stressed feet):

"Birds At Winter", by Thomas Hardy

A Around the house the flakes fly faster, (9 syllables)
B And all the berries now are gone' (ok)
a From holly and cotoneaster (9 syllables, not iambic)
A Around the house. The flakes fly! – faster (9 syllables)
a Shutting indoors the crumb-outcaster (9 syllables, not iambic)
b We used to see upon the lawn (ok)
A Around the house. The Flakes fly faster (9 syllables)
B And all the berries now are gone! (ok)

I've marked in bold what I think are the stressed syllables. Am I doing it wrong? If not, is this a case where the poet simply decided not to stick with the pattern throughout the piece?
You're mainly getting confused, I think, because several of the lines are feminine rhymes--i.e. a rhyme where the penultimate syllable is stressed and rhymes and the final syllable is unstressed and, usually, identical (faster/outcaster/cotoneaster). This results in an extra syllable in the line, but the number of metrical feet remains the same.

It is also considered acceptable to occasionally invert stresses in an iambic line. If the line is too rigid metrically, it tends to sound robotic or sing-songy. If you look at the stresses in what is perhaps the single most famous line of iambic pentameter in English
To be, / or not / to be: / that is / the quest · ion.
you'll see (assuming you scan it the same way I do) that the fourth foot is trochaic, not iambic. (There's also a dangling unstressed syllable at the end of the line, as well.)

Here's how I would scan Hardy's poem (my ear--yours may differ):
A · round / the house / the flakes / fly fast · er,
And all / the ber / ries now / are gone
From hol / ly and / co · ton / e ·ast · er
A · round / the house. / The flakes / fly!--fast · er
Shut · ting / in · doors / that crumb- / out · cast · er
We used / to see / u · pon / the lawn
A · round / the house. / The flakes fly fast · er,
And all / the ber / ries now / are gone!
Thanks for posting this. I'd never much noticed the punctuation before, which helps lessen the regularity of the meter through enjambment and the mid-line caesurae.
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Old 03-16-2014, 11:56 AM   #3
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Tzara! I was hoping you'd show up to explain this and you did! You're like Batman.

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Old 03-16-2014, 01:00 PM   #4
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Thank you, Tzara. That was a very clear and detailed explanation! It seems my problem was everything at once — not knowing about feminine rhymes, ignoring that it would be ok to invert some feet and scanning the poem with my own personal version of English. Damn, I wouldn't have thought that "and" on the 3rd line was stressed...

You've also introduced two new terms with your post: enjambment and caesurae. By enjambment, do you mean the way sentences run longer than the lines? And by caesurae, do you mean the dots after "house" on lines 4 and 7?
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Old 03-16-2014, 04:07 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Angeline View Post
Tzara! I was hoping you'd show up to explain this and you did! You're like Batman.

More like Pedant Man, I think, in a uniform of an old tweed jacket and rumpled corduroy trousers, thickish bifocals, and a rather distracted air.
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Old 03-16-2014, 04:11 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tsotha View Post
Thank you, Tzara. That was a very clear and detailed explanation! It seems my problem was everything at once — not knowing about feminine rhymes, ignoring that it would be ok to invert some feet and scanning the poem with my own personal version of English. Damn, I wouldn't have thought that "and" on the 3rd line was stressed...

You've also introduced two new terms with your post: enjambment and caesurae. By enjambment, do you mean the way sentences run longer than the lines? And by caesurae, do you mean the dots after "house" on lines 4 and 7?
You probably heard the line just fine. The stresses are not always particularly obvious, and may even be different for speakers of the same language with different accents (e.g. the American con · tro · ver · sy vs. the English con · trov · er · sy).

Kenneth Koch (in Making Your Own Days) speaks of "two kinds of rhythm in any metrical line: the imposed metrical rhythm, and the natural speech rhythm, which isn't eliminated, but simply modified, by the meter." I take this to mean that what you want in metrical poetry is a sense of order or regularity that structures the verse, but verse that still sounds natural when spoken. It's really hard to do this, at least to do it well.

Here's some information on feminine endings (not just feminine rhymes) from A Handbook of Literature, 6th ed. by Holman and Harmon):
Feminine Ending: An extra-metrical unstressed syllable added to the end of a line in iambic or anapestic rhythm. This variation, which may give a sense of movement and irregularity, is commonly used in blank verse. The most famous soliloquy in English begins with four lines that all have feminine endings:
To be, or not to be: that is the question.
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them...
A caesura (singular form of caesurae) is a break or pause in the middle of a line, often (always?) caused by punctuation. So in the case of "Birds at Winter," the periods/full stops after "Around the house" and the exclamation point/dash embed caesurae in those lines for me.

I think this is easier to see if you write the lines out as sentences, removing the line breaks:
Around the house the flakes fly faster, and all the berries now are gone from holly and cotoneaster around the house.
The flakes fly!--faster shutting indoors that crumb-outcaster we used to see upon the lawn around the house.
The flakes fly faster, and all the berries now are gone!
Enjambment is a little harder to define (or perhaps I don't feel I understand it as well). Koch says enjambed lines are "runover lines, lines in which there is not natural syntactical stop at the end of the line, just a metrical one." This is opposed to an end-stopped line, which does have a syntactical or grammatical stop at the end of the line. Koch gives these examples:
End-stopped
But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the East, and Juliet is the sun.

Enjambed
My desolation does begin to make
A better life.
All of these things (end-stopped vs. enjambed lines, the use of caesurae, variation in the basic metrical structure) alter how the poem sounds (or is read).
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Old 03-16-2014, 06:11 PM   #7
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FROM A MUSICIAN'S POINT OF VIEW
(I wish I had some music notation facility in this forum)

IAMBIC 3/8 RHYTHM SETTING (as in a 3/8 waltz rhythm)
Note values used: the quaver (1/8) and the crochet (2/8). Also the quaver rest.

Let us not forget that most musicians would start the first syllable of an iambus with an anacrusis to the next (2nd) stressed syllable.
I absolutely agree with Tzara's analysis above, except in the third line, in which I think that the iambic feeling is almost lost (well spotted Tsotha), but I will stick to my 3/8 rhythm somehow in trying to give an illusion of iambus .
The fourth foot is trochaic in all lines except line 2, 6 & 8, and its first syllable is naturally stressed but it does not have to be prolonged, as the prolongation would make it sound unnatural and not give it enough time for the next anacrusis. The beginning of the fifth line could also be taken as a trochee, but in a musical setting it could be taken more as a 3 syllable dactyl, not needing to be preceded or followed by an anacrusis, thus: Shut-ting-in/… its third syllable (in) been the required anacrusis to bring us back to the iambic 3/8 rhythm of the next syllable (DOORS).
I have chosen 3/8 as a fairly simple rhythm, with its first beat stressed and 2nd and 3rd beats unstressed, but other metric schemes would serve as well.
The result of a 3/8 rhythm as explained would shift the bar line one syllable more to the right thus:



3/8
1,2,a-/ROUND the/HOUSE the/FLAKES fly/fast-ER /
1,2,and/ALL the/BER- ries/NOW are/GONE, 3/
1,2,from/hol- LY/1,1, and/co-ton-e/ast-ER/
1,2,a-/ROUND the/HOUSE the/FLAKES fly/fast-ER/
1,2,3/shut-ting in-/DORS that/CRUMB out/fast-ER/
1,2,we/USED to/SEE up-/ON the/LAWN, 3/
1,2,a-/ROUND the/HOUSE the/FLAKES fly/fast-ER /
1,2,and/ALL the/BER- ries/NOW are/GONE, 3/1,2,/




KEY AND REMARKS:
Rests (silences) are used to square off the metric scheme (number of bars per line), but more importantly to give the singer time to breath.
1 = quaver rest occurring in the 1st beat of a bar.
2 = quaver rest occurring in the 2nd beat of a bar.
3 = quaver rest occurring in the 3rd beat of a bar.

Lower case syllable = quaver lasting 1 beat in a 3/8 beat scheme
Upper case syllable = crochet lasting two beats in a 3/8 beat scheme

In this notational scheme the upper and lower case syllables refer to duration in time and have nothing to do with stress or lack of it.
So long as the natural stress of a word occurs in the 1st beat of a 3/8 beat metre, it is stressed correctly regardless of whether it is notated in upper or lower case.
Every line has four 3/8 bars for the words and an extra (incomplete) 2/8 bar silence appearing as the beginning of the next line (giving time to the singer to breathe).
The incomplete bar is completed with the anacrusis of the following line.
Between lines 4 & 5 this pattern is broken and line 5 is been taken as a dactyl.
Apart from setting the bar line one syllable more to the right, the rhythmic result of this 3/8 setting sticks to the iambic concept (as perceived in stressed languages) without difficulty, and it also takes care of the trochaic feet where they occur.

I wish I could explain all this using musical staves, but I don’t even know how to upload an image.
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Old 03-16-2014, 07:57 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tzara View Post
Kenneth Koch (in Making Your Own Days) speaks of "two kinds of rhythm in any metrical line: the imposed metrical rhythm, and the natural speech rhythm, which isn't eliminated, but simply modified, by the meter." I take this to mean that what you want in metrical poetry is a sense of order or regularity that structures the verse, but verse that still sounds natural when spoken. It's really hard to do this, at least to do it well.
That's an interesting quote. I can see how meter gives structure (and rhythm), and it follows that if you go on and on with it, it may sound artificial or forced in natural speech. I think this is related somehow to what Pelegrino is saying.

It seems I've been using enjambments and caesurae without knowing what they were called. Thank you very much for all the info, that was really enlightening!

Quote:
Originally Posted by pelegrino View Post
FROM A MUSICIAN'S POINT OF VIEW
(I wish I had some music notation facility in this forum)

(...)

I wish I could explain all this using musical staves, but I don’t even know how to upload an image.
Pelegrino, I learned to play the guitar by myself, without any theory, so what you're saying is going a bit over my head. Please, bear with me as I try to understand... You've mentioned that each line has "four 3/8 bars" and an "incomplete 2/8 bar". If I were to tap my thumb (1), index finger (2) and middle finger (3) in sequence, I'd go through each of them five times, like this:
1,2,3 /1,2,3 /1,2,3 /1,2,3 / 1,2,3 /
So to sing "co-ton-e" you'd go "co" (1), "to" (2), "ne" (3). And the following bar, "ast-ER", would be: "ast" (1) "eeeeer" (2,3).

Is that it?
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Old 03-16-2014, 09:07 PM   #9
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Sorry for the confusion, Tsotha, is my damned way of explaining things. I'll try to clarify.
In my setting all lines begin with an anacrusis, ie on the 3rd beat of a 3/8 bar, except in line 5 where I begin on the 1st beat of the bar.
The bars containing an anacrusis are always placed in the beginning of a line and I refer to them as incomplete bars, although they appear as complete because their 3rd beat is articulated by the anacrusis. In fact they are complete 3/8 bars. My reference to them as "incomplete" was only as far as words are concerned and not as actual metrical beats. I think this is clear if you count the intervening rests represented by numbers.
Your metrical understanding of "co-ton-e-ast-er" is absolutely correct, that's what I meant, though the ending "eeeeer" does not have to be so emphasized. We only talk here of a moderate speed and a time duration worth 2 beats (1 crochet) but without the rhythmic stress of the preceding syllable "ast" which is shorter in duration by a quaver but much more stressed as it occurs in the first beat of the bar.
The same thing happens in the four times where the word "fast-ER" appears, ie a first short syllable stressed and a second (twice as long) syllable unstressed.

I hope this made it a little clearer. I had to device this inadequate notation as I did not have any symbols of crochets, quavers, rests etc, but I can see that it could be confusing to people.
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Old 03-16-2014, 11:33 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pelegrino View Post
Sorry for the confusion, Tsotha, is my damned way of explaining things. I'll try to clarify.
You did a good job in explaining — I did manage to understand quite a bit of what you've said even though I know zero music theory.

Quote:
Originally Posted by pelegrino View Post
In my setting all lines begin with an anacrusis, ie on the 3rd beat of a 3/8 bar, except in line 5 where I begin on the 1st beat of the bar.
The bars containing an anacrusis are always placed in the beginning of a line and I refer to them as incomplete bars, although they appear as complete because their 3rd beat is articulated by the anacrusis. In fact they are complete 3/8 bars. My reference to them as "incomplete" was only as far as words are concerned and not as actual metrical beats. I think this is clear if you count the intervening rests represented by numbers.
Oh, I think I understood that part before — you're "pushing back" the words in each line (padding) so that the first beat in a bar is always an "upbeat" (stressed syllable), right?

The syllables in caps are 2 beats in length, and the syllables in bold are stressed. So a syllable can be stressed without being 2 beats in length (e.g., fast-ER):

1,2,a-/ROUND the/HOUSE the/FLAKES fly/fast-ER /
1,2,and/ALL the/BER- ries/NOW are/GONE, 3/
1,2,from/hol- LY/1,1, and/co-ton-e/ast-ER/
1,2,a-/ROUND the/HOUSE the/FLAKES fly/fast-ER/
1,2,3/shut-ting in-/DORS that/CRUMB out/fast-ER/
1,2,we/USED to/SEE up-/ON the/LAWN, 3/
1,2,a-/ROUND the/HOUSE the/FLAKES fly/fast-ER /
1,2,and/ALL the/BER- ries/NOW are/GONE, 3/1,2,/

As for the first bar (anacrusis), I'd time the entire third line like this:

1,2,from/
Tap thumb (pause)
Tap index finger (pause)
Tap middle finger and say "from"

/hol-LY/
Tap thumb and say "hol"
Say "ly" while tapping the index and middle fingers

/1,1, and/
Tap thumb (pause)
Tap index finger (pause)
Tap middle finger and say "and"

/co-ton-e/
Tap thumb and say "co"
Tap index finger and say "to"
Tap middle finger and say "ne"

/ast-ER/
Tap thumb and say "as"
Say "er" while tapping the index and middle fingers

Quote:
Originally Posted by pelegrino View Post
Your metrical understanding of "co-ton-e-ast-er" is absolutely correct, that's what I meant, though the ending "eeeeer" does not have to be so emphasized. We only talk here of a moderate speed and a time duration worth 2 beats (1 crochet) but without the rhythmic stress of the preceding syllable "ast" which is shorter in duration by a quaver but much more stressed as it occurs in the first beat of the bar.
The same thing happens in the four times where the word "fast-ER" appears, ie a first short syllable stressed and a second (twice as long) syllable unstressed.

I hope this made it a little clearer. I had to device this inadequate notation as I did not have any symbols of crochets, quavers, rests etc, but I can see that it could be confusing to people.
Ah, yes. I was trying to highlight somehow that the word was sustained for a longer time (2 beats, or double the time, as you said), but my notation was beyond inadequate.

Thank you for the explanation. I was thinking that, depending on the meter used, this thing you've done (moving the lines back, inserting some pause beats) could get quite "messy", and make it difficult to sing, no? Or perhaps, it would mess up the time badly and make it sound "strange" (as in, the beat would be unnatural)?
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Old 03-17-2014, 06:59 AM   #11
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I read this three times and my brain wants to crawl out of my ears and punch my eyes
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Old 03-17-2014, 10:26 AM   #12
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Well, what a mess I made again of explaining!
Sorry, todski28.
Take three:

Tsotha's presentation of the setting above, is optically better than mine as it shows the stressed syllables in bold. Otherwise they are identical and both correct rhythmically.

What is not identical is my explanation and his understanding and since the new confusion.
Let us stick to Tsotha's 8 line presentation of the setting as it looks better.
To me the whole piece is very simple. It is a rhythmic setting in 3/8 of an iambic poem.
Every bar of a 3/8 piece has 3 beats. These beats have a duration value of a quaver (1/8) note each.
The 3rd beat of every bar is an anacrusis to the next bar.
I am using really two duration values, the quaver (1/8) and the crochet (1/4). I also use quaver rests which have the same duration value as quavers (1/8) each and I use for them the numbers 1,2,3 depending on which beat of the bar those rests occur.
So, any bar can use any possible combination of the two durational values, but its aggregate in every complete bar must always be 3 quavers, whether these are presented as crochets, quavers or quaver rests.
For example,
the sum of the 1st bar in the first line is 1+1+1. (quaver rest + quaver rest + quaver)
The sum of the 2nd bar in the first line is 2+1. (crochet + quaver)
The sum of the 5th bar in the first line is 1+2. (quaver + crochet)
The sum of the 1st bar in the fifth line is 1+1+1. (quaver rest + quaver rest + quaver rest)
I hope so far I made some sense.

If taken as explained, this piece runs from beginning to end without stop. There is no need for stop, aesthetic, musical or otherwise. The rests are not stops, they are counted beats in which only the speech/singing stops and the singer breaths, but the running time does not stop and the 3/8 rhythm is not interrupted or paused.
I think here lies the confusion.
Tsotha introduced the concept of a pause. There is not anywhere a pause in this setting. We count from beginning to end 1, 2,3/ 1,2,3/ 1,2,3/ and so on, without stopping or pausing anywhere and at the same time we perform the words as we meet them, ie as quavers, crochets and quaver rests.
As I said, in a 3/8 piece the 1st beat in every bar is stressed and the 2nd and 3rd beats unstressed.
And so the stressed and unstressed syllables of the iambus and other types of feet fall into place.
I hope I have made it clearer this time.
Don’t forget that music is a performing art and the performance has to be absolutely measured and correct.
If all the above is understood we can start adding different pitches to the quavers and crochets and make a melody out of it, then take this melody as our basis, add simple harmony and make a complete song.
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Old 03-17-2014, 08:35 PM   #13
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Oops. By pause I meant pause to breath, or pause in speech. Of course, the beat continues...
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Old 03-18-2014, 12:01 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by todski28 View Post
I read this three times and my brain wants to crawl out of my ears and punch my eyes
You and me both!! It's no good asking me to explain either I go for how it sounds in my head!
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Old 03-18-2014, 11:15 AM   #15
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Ok, since we have clarified that "pauses" are not stops in the running rhythm, I think that Tsotha's understanding as explained by him above is correct.
Look at his timing and the action he takes as he performs the words of line 3 which is probably the most rhythmically complicated line in the whole piece:

1,2,from/
Tap thumb
Tap index finger
Tap middle finger and say "from"

/hol-LY/
Tap thumb and say "hol"
Say "ly" while tapping the index and middle fingers (successively)

/1,1, and/
Tap thumb
Tap index finger
Tap middle finger and say "and"

/co-ton-e/
Tap thumb and say "co"
Tap index finger and say "to"
Tap middle finger and say "ne"

/ast-ER/
Tap thumb and say "as"
Say "er" while tapping the index and middle fingers (successively).

I have erased the word "pause" from his presentation for more clarity and added the word (successively)
In two places, as this could be taken to mean "simultaneously" which would be wrong.
What we are after here is a rigid rhythmical performance.
The regular taping of fingers keeps the 3/8 rhythm going steadily, and the simultaneous articulation of the words in the particular beats of any bar where they should occur is correct!

We are talking here about an actual rhythmical performance of the piece that has taken place.
His was done neatly, and in my head sounds already as an mp3.
Well, if this rhythmic realization is correct, any other interpretation of the notated piece would be rhythmically wrong.
I suggest the above procedure of taping and performing the words in the time point where they should occur as a correct and easy to follow model for performance.
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Old 03-23-2014, 12:39 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tsotha View Post
Can someone please help me with this? I'm trying to understand metre, but I keep checking poems and they come up "wrong". Either I am messing up the stress markup or I don't understand how metre works.

An example. The following is a Triolet, so it's supposed to follow iambic tetrameter (four unstressed-stressed feet):

"Birds At Winter", by Thomas Hardy

A Around the house the flakes fly faster, (9 syllables)
B And all the berries now are gone' (ok)
a From holly and cotoneaster (9 syllables, not iambic)
A Around the house. The flakes fly! – faster (9 syllables)
a Shutting indoors the crumb-outcaster (9 syllables, not iambic)
b We used to see upon the lawn (ok)
A Around the house. The Flakes fly faster (9 syllables)
B And all the berries now are gone! (ok)

I've marked in bold what I think are the stressed syllables. Am I doing it wrong? If not, is this a case where the poet simply decided not to stick with the pattern throughout the piece?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scansion
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systems_of_scansion
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generative_metrics
all fall down
in the past I have posted links to several blogs, some of which come up with completely different readings than expected. What is missing from them even is the fact that perhaps the writer intended the poem to be able to have several different readings.
At a very basic level, listen to an Englishman reading English poetry largely before the 20th century. Keep in mind, most of us are not Englishmen living before the 20th century.
In natural speech, my guess English are more prone to the Iamb than Americans (who probably use a high percentage of Anapests (prepositional phrases as an example), but don't take my word for it, go check for yourself, go check for yourself, but my question to you would be why bother? As English is spoken by more non English people, and then even amongst the English there will be variation.

Now what pelegrino says looks good for the composition of song lyrics which is not quite the same as a poetic line. There may be a different audience with a different set of expectations.
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Old 03-23-2014, 06:39 PM   #17
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Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 4,747
slightly off topic
type in google the following words
Koch repetitive poetry
you will see Ken easily
there is a wealth of information there, some circumvent the trick of having the "correct" pronunciation
Got that non-Anglo or even Aussies
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