For anyone who is interested in writing formal poetry, two books are essential: Lewis Turco’s Book of Forms and Timothy Steele’s All the Fun’s in how you say a thing.
The first part of Book of Forms, “Elements of Poetry,” discusses the levels of poetry, systems of prosody and a glossary of poetic terms. The second part is Turco’s “Form-Finder Index,” what it says, and the third part covers traditional forms in the three main modes of poetry, dramatic, narrative and lyric.
Timothy Steel describes the “mechanics” of poetry, scansion, feet and meter, versification. In the opening he shows that the iamb, weak stress-strong stress is natural for English by comparing “desert” and “dessert.” The stress syllable is first in desert, DESert, and second in dessert, dessERT.
Both books provide plenty of examples, but reading older poetry is necessary for a real understanding of what iambic pentameter and related meters sound like. More, you can see an essential aspect of poetry I haven’t read in various discussions for quite some time. If the aim of an art is to create beauty, the ultimate aim of the art of poetry is to create beauty with words.

The Curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Thomas Gray, “Elegy in a Country Churchyard.” Found on


2 thoughts on “METER READING

  1. I love Gray’s poem too! I’d be interested to hear your feedback on my own blog page, which is entirely commited to studying meter in Shakespeare’s work! It’s:

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