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Byron Society Technical Page

by Dr. C.G. Oakley

Everybody knows what rhyme means, but I am always amazed at how little people know about scansion, even those who should know better. This is just as important as rhyme. So if you are one of these then listen up: you might learn something.

Scansion or metre means the rhythm formed by the syllables in a line of poetry. The verb to scan in this context means working out what the metre is (often a fruitless exercise in the case of Byron Society poetry). Traditionally, English poetry consists of metrical verse, which means that the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables is regular. Looser forms are (i) accentual verse, where the number of stressed syllables per line is regular; (ii) syllabic verse where the number of syllables, stressed or not, is regular and (iii) free verse or vers libre where there is no definite scansion. Here we consider only metrical verse.

The unit of metre is the foot or measure.

Types of feet:

S = stressed syllable; U = unstressed syllable.

Common foot groupings in metrical verse:

Special types of stanza:

Yes, but does the Byron Society pay any attention to any of this?

Occasionally. Whereas almost all of the poetry given here is rhymed, some is metrical as well. Note especially

Heroic couplets:

Couplets in iambic tetrameter: Blank verse: Heroic quatrains: Non-heroic quatrain in iambic pentameter: Ballad form:

Spenserian Stanzas:


Couplets in iambic decameter:

Unclassified but metrical form: