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Rhyme, metre and structure

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1 Rhyme, metre and structure
How Poetry Works Rhyme, metre and structure

2 Aims To look at the basic ‘mechanics’ of poetry or ‘how it works’ so not at what the poem is about To understand that poetry has rules, and poets know about these rules (sometimes they deliberately break them!) TEACHERS’ NOTE: The point to make is that we often think about what the poet is trying to say - the message or theme and the poem, and sometimes about the imagery etc. However, often people forget that poetry has a series of rules that poet’s knew about because they grew up reading ‘classical’ poems. This talk tries to introduce some of these: Rhyme, Metre, Structure.

3 Activity 1 Read aloud these lines from the poem by Robert Graves called ‘Familiar Letter to Siegfried Sassoon’ written in July, 1916 (this is just the beginning part) TEACHERS’ NOTE: Graves and Sassoon were friends serving in the Royal Welch Fusiliers during World War One. The reference to the University of Buffalo shows where the manuscript (or typescript) is held. Full text of poem: FAMILIAR LETTER TO SIEGFRIED SASSOON by ROBERT GRAVES *(From Bivouacs at Mametz Wood, July 13th, 1916)* I never dreamed we'd meet that day In our old haunts down Fricourt way, Plotting such marvellous journeys there For golden-houred 'Aprés-la-guerre.' Well, when it's over, first we'll meet At Gweithdy Bach, my country seat In Wales, a curious little shop With two rooms and a roof on top, A sort of Morlancourt-ish billet That never needs a crowd to fill it. But oh, the country round about! The sort of view that makes you shout For want of any better way Of praising God: there's a blue bay Shining in front, and on the right Snowdon and Hebog capped with white, And lots of other mountain peaks That you could wonder at for weeks, With jag and spur and hump and cleft. There's a grey castle on the left, And back in the high hinterland You'll see the grave of Shawn Knarlbrand Who slew the savage Buffaloon By the Nant-col one night in June, And won his surname from the horn Of this prodigious unicorn. Beyond, where the two Rhinogs tower, Rhinog Fach and Rhinog Fawr, Close there after a four years' chase From Thessaly and the woods of Thrace, The beaten Dog-cat stood at bay And growled and fought and passed away. You'll see where mountain conies grapple With prayer and creed in their rock chapel Which three young children once built for them; They call it Séar Bethlehem. You'll see where in old Roman days, Before Revivals changed our ways, The Virgin 'scaped the Devil's grab, Printing her foot on a stone slab With five clear toe-marks; and you'll find The fiendish thumb-print close behind. You'll see where Math, Mathonwy's son, Spoke with the wizard Gwydion And bade him for South Wales set out To steal that creature with the snout, That new-discovered grunting beast Divinely flavoured for the feast. No traveller yet has hit upon A wilder land than Meirion, For desolate hills and tumbling stones, Bogland and melody and old bones. Fairies and ghosts are here galore, And poetry most splendid, more Than can be written with the pen Or understood by common men. In Gweithdy Bach we'll rest a while, We'll dress our wounds and learn to smile With easier lips; we'll stretch our legs, And live on bilberry tart and eggs, And store up solar energy, Basking in sunshine by the sea, Until we feel a match once more For *anything* but another war. So then we'll kiss our families, And sail away across the seas (The God of Song protecting us) To the great hills of Caucasus. Robert will learn the local *bat* For billeting and things like that, If Siegfried learns the piccolo To charm the people as we go. The simple peasants clad in furs Will greet the foreign officers With open arms, and ere they pass Will make them tuneful with Kavasse. In old Bagdad we'll call a halt At the Sashuns' ancestral vault; We'll catch the Persian rose-flowers' scent, And understand what Omar meant. Bitlis and Mush will know our faces, Tiflis and Tomsk, and all such places. Perhaps eventually we'll get Among the Tartars of Thibet, Hobnobbing with the Chungs and Mings, And doing wild, tremendous things In free adventure, quest and fight, And God! what poetry we'll write! MS 141, Box 85: University of Buffalo

4 Activity 1 S.S. = Siegfried Sassoon
Mametz Wood = part of the Battle of the Somme Fricourt = near Mametz Wood Apres la guerre = French ‘after the war’ Teacher’s Note If you go to and search the archive for ‘mametz’ or ‘fricourt’ you will find lots of material to illustrate this. The poem is written after the opening of the Battle of the Somme where Graves and Sassoon both fought. MS 141, Box 85: University of Buffalo

5 Activity 1 When you read the poem did you notice any words that rhymed? Did it feel like ‘music’? Were there beats in the line? MS 141, Box 85: University of Buffalo

6 Rhyme Rhyme is important to poetry, but not all poetry rhymes.
In the Graves’ poem we had ‘day’ rhyming with ‘way’ and ‘there’ with ‘guerre’ When we find rhyme in a poem we tend to describe it like ‘abab’ or ‘ababcc’ etc. What does this mean?

7 Rhyme scheme Here we can see what we mean A B
We have noted at the end of the first line the letter ‘A’ (so this stands for the ‘sound’ day) – the next line ends with way, which rhymes so we also label that A Line 3 starts a new rhyme (there does not rhyme with way or day) so we label this B Line 4 rhymes with there but not day or way so we also label this B And so on …

8 Rhyming Scheme How would we note the rhyme in this poem?
These are opening lines of Vera Brittain’s poem ‘Perhaps’. We note this as ‘abab’ and ‘cdcd’ How would we note the rhyme in this poem?

9 Was rhyme important to the poets?
Full Text of Poem: DISABLED by WILFRED OWEN He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark, And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey, Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn, Voices of play and pleasure after day, Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him * * * About this time Town used to swing so gay When glow-lamps budded in the light blue trees, And girl glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,--- In the old times, before he threw away his knees. Now he will never feel again how slim Girl's waists are, or how warm their subtle hands. All of them touch him like some queer disease * * * There was an artist silly for his face, For it was younger than his youth, last year. Now, he is old; his back will never brace; He's lost his colour very far from here, Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry, And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race And leap of purple spurted from his thigh * * * One time he liked a blood-smear down his leg, After the matches, carried shoulder-high. It was after football, when he'd drunk a peg, He thought he'd better join.---He wonders why. Someone had said he'd look a god in kilts, That's why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg, Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts He asked to join. He didn't have to beg; Smiling they wrote his lie: aged nineteen years. Germans he scarcely thought of; all their guilt, And Austria's, did not move him. And no fears Of Fear came yet. He thought of jewelled hilts For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes; And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears; Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits. And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers * * * Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal. Only a solemn man who brought him fruits *Thanked* him; and then enquired about his soul * * * Now, he will spend a few sick years in institutes, And do what things the rules consider wise, And take whatever pity they may dole. Tonight he noticed how the women's eyes Passed from him to the strong men that were whole. How cold and late it is! Why don't they come And put him into bed? Why don't they come? Yes! Here we can see Wilfred Owen writing an early version of his poem ‘Disabled’ - this is his actual handwriting! See how he starts to note the rhyme scheme on the right – ‘abacbcb’ and so on

10 ‘Beats’ When we read out the poem by Robert Graves we asked about ‘beats’, as if it was music Read it again below and see if you can hear something like – ‘da-dum da-dum da-dum da-dum’ Can you hear the ‘dum’ part is more stressed than the ‘da’? DA DUM DA DUM DA DUM DA DUM Teacher Activity To mark out the stresses you could ask the pupils to clap out the stresses You may also ask what effect four stresses had on the feel of the poem. It will probably come across as quite fun, trotting along in a simple almost childlike way. The poem is, after all, a happy poem looking forward to a peaceful future away from Mametz Wood and the Somme. So this poem (throughout) has four beats (four ‘dums’) to each line, or as we would say four stresses

11 Four/Five/Six stresses?
Not all poems have four stresses to the line. Some have five, some have more, some mix them up.

12 Read out the lines from Vera Brittain’s poem.
How many beats or stresses are there? Teacher Activity Here there are five stresses to the line. You could also point out how the stress falls on important words like ‘day’ ‘sun’ and ‘shine’ (and not on ‘one’ or ‘the’) DA DUM DA DUM DA DUM DA DUM DA DUM

13 Not all poets keep to regular stresses!
Here we can see a few lines from David Jones’s poem ‘In Parenthesis’ (part 7) Jones is describing a soldier (’72 Morgan) who has had his head cut off by a shell, and the head sits there like the cat in Alice in Wonderland However the stresses (da dums) are different for the lines So, stress is important, and we should know how to find it, but - NOT ALL poets keep to stress patterns - WHEN YOU READ a poem try to read it naturally (don’t just look for the da-dums!)

14 Was stress important to the poets?
The fact that they use it suggests so … This is part of a letter written by Robert Graves to Wilfred Owen written in early 1918, discussing Owen’s poem ‘Disabled’ (which Graves liked). He says: ‘For instance you have a foot too much in In the old days before he gave away his knees’ The poem is about a soldier being disabled (losing his legs) so is Graves just making a sick joke about having too many feet? Teacher’s Note: The full letter is at

15 A ‘foot’ A ‘foot’ is just another word for the beat or measure we’ve been looking at up to now So ‘da dum’ is a foot, but so is ‘dum da’ or ‘da da dum’ (and so on) So what Graves is saying to Owen is that in this line of the poem there are too many beats, stresses, and so on … A foot is a single unit

16 Was Graves Right? Here we have two versions by Owen
‘In the old times, before he threw away his legs’ How many stresses are there here? Five or six? Teacher’s Note: Stress on first syllable. The first part has too many stresses (Graves saw that). ‘Gave away’ or ‘threw away’ adds an extra stress, whereas ‘smashed’ or ‘spoilt’ which Owen plays with in the second version reduces that. N.B. Most editors retain ‘threw away’! ‘In the old times, before he smashed his knees’ What about here? Five or six stresses?

17 Structure It is often important how poems are structured
For example, how many lines are there in the poem, how are the lines ‘grouped’, etc

18 Look at this version of ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ by Wilfred Owen.
Even when writing the poem he made sure it was broken into two ‘chunks’. We call each chunk a ‘stanza’. Now count the lines. How many are there in the top stanza? How many are there in the second stanza? Why? Teacher’s Notes: This could lead to a discussion on set structures, such as the fourteen line sonnet, with the first stanza containing 8 lines (an octet) and the second 6 lines ( a sextet).

19 Summary So we now know about: Rhyme schemes (abab etc)
Beats/stresses/foot (which we put together and call ‘metre’) The structure of poems We also know the poets knew about all of this!

20 Owen´s ´Disabled´ Subject: what is the poem about?
Action: what happens in the poem? Theme : What themes or ideas does the poem explore? Why might it have been written? Imagery: what descriptive, sensory detail can you find? Figurative language: what roles do similes, metaphor and symbolism play? Structure: how has the poem been structured? What does the layout contribute to the meaning of the poem? Tone: what feelings are evoked by the poem?

21 Rhythm and rhyme What can rhythm in a poem do?
What is syllable stress? What is emphatic stress? Define metre What is a foot? Name two possible effects of rhyme in a poem Questions after reading handout pp English A1 course companion What can rhythm in a poem do? (create mood, influence tone and atmosphere) What is syllable stress? (the natural stress pattern of a word) What is emphatic stress? (where the writer deliberately places the stress on a word to create a particular effect) Define metre (the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry) What is a ´foot´? A unit of stresses e.g. One stressed and one unstressed Name two effects of rhyme in a poem? (to make a poem sound musical to the ear, to create a jarring, discordant effect, to add emphasis to particular words)

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