Examples of Meter In Poem: Rhythmic Patterns for Spoken Word Verse

Check out our guide with examples of meter in poem to get the hang of meter in poetry as a literary device. 

Practice makes perfect, and reading poetry, from William Shakespeare to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, is the perfect way to get the hang of how the meter can make a difference in the sound of a poem. Whether you’re an expert at writing lines rhythmically or just figuring out how to move from writing prose to poetry, meter matters. When you read a poem with proper poetic meter, you’ll find that it flows like music, as the stressed and unstressed multisyllabic words feel natural in pronunciation. Typically, poetry consists of repeating units of sound—called poetic feet—that create the meter.

Pro tip: Reading our examples out loud can help you get the feel of a poem more quickly than reading in your mind.

Poetry Terminology: Breaking it Down

Examples of meter in poem
The first word in a term describing poetic meter (like the word iambic in the phrase iambic pentameter) is known as the style’s metric foot

When you look at the terms used to describe the patterns followed in poetry, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed—many of the words used to describe poetic meter look like they’re written in Greek. Once you understand the words, they’re pretty easy to grasp.

Poetic Meter Terms

Generally, the first word of a poetic meter describes the pattern that the syllables follow (such as iambic or trochaic), and the second word explains how many iambs, spondees, or trochees (more on that later) are in each line of the poem (for example, trimeter or pentameter). As you continue to study poetry terms, these words will become second nature. Take your time until using the language of poetry becomes natural to you.

The first word in a term describing poetic meter (like the word iambic in the phrase iambic pentameter) is known as the style’s metric foot. A metric foot can consist of two, three, or more syllables. To figure out how many syllables are in the line, you’ll multiply the number of syllables in the first word by the prefix of the second word—stick with us. For example, an iamb consists of two syllables. The term pentameter means five (penta) metric feet per line. This means we need to multiply two by five to learn that there are typically ten syllables per line in a poem written in iambic pentameter.

Breaking the Rules

An important note before we dive in: poets love to break the rules. You’ll find that many poets stick to a specific form of meter but may break it to make a word stick out or to make a specific point. Meter is a tool in poetry, but a perfect poetic meter is by no means a must-have. As in all of literature, creativity is the name of the game, and there’s no need to be bound by specific rules if they can’t convey your point. You might also be interested in these alliteration examples.

Iambic Pentameter

Before we break down poetry terms, we’ll start with some examples to give you an idea of how meter works. An iambic pentameter is a super-common form of poetry, and checking out what the term means—as well as some examples of poetry that are written following this meter can help you get started with understanding the different forms. Whether you know it or not, you’ve heard iambic pentameter poetry more times than you can count.

This classic pattern has been used throughout literary history and is still popular today. From Shakespeare to the most famous poets of the modern literary world, you’ll find that once you recognize iambic pentameter, you’ll hear it everywhere. As we mentioned, the two words that make up the description of poetic meter work together to help poets stick to a specific form in rhythm and line length. This allows poems to flow nicely and create a distinctly different form of literature from prose.

For iambic pentameter, we’re working with iambs in sets of five (penta). Let’s dig into exactly what that means. This style has ten syllables in each line, alternating stressed and unstressed syllables. We know this sounds a little goofy, but bear with us: iambic pentameter sounds like ba-BUM ba-BUM ba-BUM ba-BUM ba-BUM. The term “iamb” in iambic refers to the unstressed syllable followed by the stressed syllable, and the “penta” in pentameter means that there are five iambs in each line (keep this in the forefront of your mind—we’re going to come back to it in a bit).

Examples of Iambic Pentameter

1. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare
A portrait of William Shakespeare

“Two households, both alike in dignity, 

In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, 

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, 

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”

As you read the passage, you can hear how you emphasize each syllable (take our advice and speak it to get a feel for this type of meter).

2. A Short Story of Falling by Alice Oswald

“It is the story of the falling rain

to turn into a leaf and fall again

it is the secret of a summer shower

to steal the light and hide it in a flower”

Let’s look at one more example before moving on to a type of meter that’s a bit more complicated.

3. My Last Duchess by Robert Browning

“That my last Duchess painted on the wall

Looking as if she were alive. I call

That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf’s hands

Worked busily a day and there she stands

And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst

How such a glance came there; so not the first”

You understand the sing-songy tone that goes with iambic pentameter. Keep it in mind, and take note of just how often you hear it in day-to-day English speech.


A spondee is a word that consists of two equally stressed syllables. These words play an important role in creating more complicated forms of poetry, so it’s key that you recognize them before we move forward.

Say a few of the following words out loud to yourself to get a handle on the idea of a spondee:

  • Handshake
  • Toothache
  • Bookmark
  • Bus stop
  • Ice cream

Examples of Spondaic Meter

1. Diving into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich

“We are, I am, you are

by cowardice or courage

the one who find our way

back to this scene

carrying a knife, a camera

a book of myths

in which

our names do not appear.”

Read the above work by Rich aloud to find examples of spondees. 


Time for another funky word—trochee, the poetic term for a word or phrase consisting of one accented syllable and one unaccented syllable.

Say these trochee examples out loud to get an idea of the rhythm:

  • Highway
  • Garden
  • Tiger
  • Starbucks
  • Townhouse
  • Mailbox

Example of Trochaic Meter

One of the most well-known poems of all time is written in mostly trochaic form:

1. The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

‘Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, ‘tapping at my chamber door—

Only this and nothing more.'”

Try to read Poe’s work without stressing the first syllable of each foot, and you’ll see that it sounds unnatural and is almost impossible to verbalize. While it can be tough to figure out the meter of a poem right away, it’s often easier to figure out what a poem isn’t. When unsure of a poetic meter, try reading the words in each style to figure out what works and what doesn’t. As you read The Raven, you can pick out several trochees in this stanza, including midnight, pondered, weary, curious, tapping, visitor, and chamber.

2. The Tyger by William Blake

“Tyger Tyger, burning bright,

In the forests of the night; 

What immortal hand or eye, 

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies. 

Burnt the fire of thine eyes?

On what wings dare he aspire?

What the hand, dare seize the fire?”

Just like finding spondees, reading out loud to find hidden trochees in poetry can be helpful. This type of poetry forces poets to carefully consider each word to stay within the rhythm of the poem.


Time to dig into another fancy word for a simple poetry concept. A dactyl is a word or phrase with an accented syllable followed by two unaccented syllables.

Examples of dactyls include:

  • Murmuring
  • Endlessly
  • Hopelessly
  • Forgiven
  • Poetry
  • Typical
  • Homelessness

Example of Dactylic Meter

Many poets find this poetry style ideal for works that include spoken dialogue. The following stanza is written in a dactylic meter—read it slowly and notice the pattern of the accented syllables.

1. The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

“Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns!” he said.

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.”

Iambic Tetrameter

Now that we’ve got some of the basics down, it’s time to dig into some of the forms of poetry that are a little more tricky, like iambic tetrameter. Remember, an iamb is simple—a word or phrase with one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Iambic pentameter had five iambs per line—a poem written in iambic tetrameter has four iambs per line.

Examples of Iambic Tetrameter

1. I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth

“I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.”

Take a moment to read the above poem out loud, and notice how it has the same sing-song quality as poems written in iambic pentameter. The rhythm is the same; each line is simply two syllables shorter.

2. Not Quite Fair by Henry Leigh

“The hills, the meadows, and the lakes,

Enchant not for their own sweet sakes.

They cannot know, they cannot care

To know that they are thought so fair.”

It’s easy to imagine Leigh sitting in the countryside with a pen and notebook, writing an upbeat poem about nature’s beauty. While iambic pentameter is a classic form of poetry, many poets find that writing in iambic tetrameter feels more natural.

Iambic Trimeter

Now that you’re getting the hang of this poetry format jargon, you can probably figure this out on your own—iambic trimeter consists of three iambs per line, with the first syllable unstressed and the second syllable stressed (ba-BUM). Typically, poems written in iambic trimeter have six syllables per line. This type of meter was commonly used in the spoken portions of Ancient Greek tragedies and comedies.

Examples of Iambic Trimeter

1. If You Were Coming in the Fall by Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson
A portrait of Emily Dickinson

“If you were coming in the fall

I’d brush the summer by

With half a smile and half a spurn

As housewives do a fly.” 

This sing-songy poem is similar to a limerick or nursery rhyme and is easy to memorize.

Trochaic Tetrameter

We know what a trochee is (a metered foot-like highway in which the first syllable is emphasized), and we know what tetrameter is—a poetic meter that consists of four feet per line. Poems written in trochaic meter typically consist of four trochees in a row, for eight syllables per line.

Examples of Trochaic Tetrameter

1. The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“On the shores of Gitche Gumee,

Of the shining Big-Sea-Water,

Stood Nokomis, the old woman,

Pointing with her finger westward,

O’er the water pointing westward,

To the purple clouds of sunset.

Fiercely the red sun descending

Burned his way along the heavens,

Set the sky on fire behind him,

As war-parties, when retreating,

Burn the prairies on their war-trail;

And the moon, the Night-sun, eastward,

Suddenly starting from his ambush,

Followed fast those bloody footprints,

Followed in that fiery war-trail,

With its glare upon his features.”

This lengthy poem’s meter style makes it to the point, allowing Longfellow to consider each word’s meaning carefully. Shortline requirements can aid poets in ensuring each word adds to the poem’s point.

2. The Explosion by Philip Larkin

“On the day of the explosion

Shadows pointed towards the pithead.

In the sun the slagheap slept.”

Down the lane came men in pit boots

Coughing oath-edged talk and pipe-smoke,

Shouldering off the freshened silence.”

The shorter lines (compared to those of poems written in pentameter) create an intense, to-the-point style that’s perfect for poetry that works to drive home poignant ideas.

Dactylic Hexameter

This form of poetry—you guessed it—combines the use of dactyls (words or phrases that consist of one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables). Each line of a poem written in a dactylic hexameter consists of six dactyls per line, typically eighteen syllables per line. If this type of poetry sounds a bit complicated, that’s because it is—it’s rare that you’ll find a modern-day poem written in this meter. Ancient Latin and Greek poets typically used dactylic hexameter.

Example of Dactylic Hexameter

It’s rare to find a dactylic hexameter poem written in English. This example from Longfellow lends itself to being read aloud.

1. Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,

Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,

Stand like Druids of old, with voices sad and prophetic,

Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.

Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighbouring ocean

Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.”

The pauses naturally created at the end of each line create an interesting style, leaving the reader hanging to find out where Longfellow will go next. This is especially noticeable in the last two lines listed in the above example. 

Free Verse

Sometimes, poets simply throw the idea of meter to the wind. This may be to emphasize specific ideas throughout a poem or to allow their creative mind to flow without being stuck within the constraints of meter rules. Free verse is truly a rule-free form of poetry. Lines do not have to rhyme, and syllables can be used freely. Some poets who write in free verse even use the arrangement of words on the page to assist in making their point.

Example of Free Verse Poetry

Free verse poetry isn’t necessarily disorganized; sometimes, poets find that they can more easily make their points when they aren’t confined to following a particular meter style. 

1. Mother to Son by Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes
A portrait of Langston Hughes

“Well, son, I’ll tell you:

Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

It’s had tacks in it,

And splinters,

And boards torn up,

And places with no carpet on the floor—


But all the time

I’se been a-climbin’ on,

And reachin’ landin’s,

And turnin’ corners,

And sometimes goin’ in the dark

Where there ain’t been no light.

So boy, don’t you turn back.

Don’t you set down on the steps

‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.

Don’t you fall now—

For I’se still goin’, honey,

I’se still climbin’,

And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”

In the above example by Langston Hughes, pay attention to how the author uses commas, single words, and rhythm to emphasize specific points throughout the poem without following any particular type of meter. While the poem is written without a specific meter style, it’s still well-organized and uses style to make particular points.

Learn more about this topic by reading our guide: What is stream-of-consciousness poetry?