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Poetry and Rhythm by Adelere Adesina


Literature, in my very words, is the expression of the seen and the unseen in words and inwords. By 'words', I mean the diction of literary works: the lexicon, idioms, phrasal verbs, figures of speech, rhetoric devices, etc. Then, the other part of this expression is inwords: structure, mood, tone, rhythm, appeal to senses (imagery), rhyme, etc. This expression can be made in various forms: drama, prose and poetry. The three have their uniqueness. One part of Poetry's uniqueness is rhythm. Here, we want to see the might of rhythm in poetry.

What is Poetry?

Perhaps you have asked yourself this question, but have not found a very good answer. Poetry is the expression of the writer's truest, purest mind so plainly that the truth is hidden, although openly shown, in arranged lines. There are two things about poetry: arrangement and plainness. There are two things about the poet: truthfulness and purity. These all must be found expressed in a piece before it can be said the piece is poetic. Poetics demands that the poet arranges and is plain, telling his mind's truth without any stain, and not putting any veil on his expression. In poetry lies the greatest simplicity ― meanwhile, the idea of simplicity does not guarantee that the poem will be easily understood. Indeed, plainness is complicated and only the profound, concerned individuals get to reach the heart of a poem most times. Poetry is the expression of the mind in lines, which, in most cases, have some rhyme and rhythm, and in carefully chosen words. Rhythm is one of the attributes of verse, which makes it unique.

What is Rhythm?

Rhythm, in poetry, is a regular pattern of sounds that is repeated. It is the variation of strong and weak elements (syllables or stresses) over metre. A line has its rhythm which is defined when the poet carefully selects words that make an even pattern of sounds when reading. Rhythm is one of the ways the poet expresses diligence, order, orderliness and calmness. It can be used to relate disorderliness, disorder and discomfort, thereby exhibiting sadness, imbalance, anger, ecstasy and extreme joy. The strength of what rhythm can express depends on the writer, and more largely, on the reader. Herein are seen things that are associated with rhythm using the English language. Rhythm deals with speech sounds in any language. Hence, we will study some things particular to the speech of English first.

PHONEME: A phoneme is the smallest unit of speech in a language which can be used to show the difference between two words. In the word 'pet' and 'bet', for example, /p/ is a phoneme which is different from /b/. The English language has 44 phonemes.

SYLLABLE: A syllable is a unit of speech which usually has one vowel sound along with one or more consonants, and can be produced in a single breath. A word may have one syllable (a monosyllable) or more than one syllable (polysyllabic word). For example, in the word 'gate', there is just one syllable (/geit/); whereas, the word 'timely' has two syllables (/'taimli'/). Words like 'interesting', 'truthfulness', 'advantage', etc. have many syllables.

STRESS: This is the degree of force with which a word, or a part of a word, is pronounced which makes it louder than another word. It is an extra force used in producing a syllable which makes it louder (stronger) than others. In English, rhythm is stressed-timed. That is a regular pattern of speech is made by what is called primary stresses.

If you have understood these, we can just move on to some more things that are very prosodic. If not, I suggest you go through the above again.

The following are parts of rhythm that are discussed herein: foot and metre.

FOOT: This is a unit of rhythm (metre) in a line of poetry which consists of one stressed syllable with one or more weak syllables. A stressed syllable is a syllable that is produced with more force and is loud; while, a weak syllable is one that is produced with less force and is not loud. Listen to the voice note tagged Example Four for the following examples: /she 'wills/, /I will 'sing/, /'the 'moon is/ not 'happy/. There are different feet, according to the number of stressed syllables that they have. Some are:

Note: Apostrophes are used to identify stressed syllables.

Amphibrach: This is an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable and another unstressed syllable, (˘ ‾ ˘). For example:

/The 'death of/ his an'chor/
/is 'trouble/ o, 'tragic./

Anapaest: This is an arrangement of two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable, (˘ ˘ ‾). For example:

/It must 'come, /'it must 'come/
/'the astray, / must it 'go./

Dactyl: This is unit in which a stressed syllable is followed by two unstressed syllables, ( ‾ ˘ ˘). For example:

/'Earth is as /'peaceful as/
/'man with his / 'home with his./

Iambus: This is a unit in which an unstressed syllable comes before a stressed syllable, ( ˘ ‾ ). For example:

/I 'come/ to'night/ to 'steal/
/your 'sand, /your 'book, /your 'heart./

Pyrrhic: This is an arrangement of two unstressed syllables, ( ˘ ˘). For example:

/I am/ as this/
untrue /to it./  (Note: 'Untrue' is an iamb, not a pyrrhic.)

Spondee: This is a unit of metre with two stressed syllables, ( ‾ ‾ ). For example:

/'Dance 'wind, /'dance 'east/
/'bring peace,/ 'let's 'feast./

Trochee: This is a unit in which a stressed syllable is followed by an unstressed syllable, ( ‾ ˘ ). For example:

/'Come on, /'swing up, /'swing down,/
/'take it, /'sweetness, /'blisses./

METRE: This is the proper arrangement of stressed and unstressed syllables in verse. A foot is a unit of metre. The metre of defines the rhythm of that poem. Technically, horizontal bars are used to indicate on a vowel to indicate a stressed syllable. These bars are called macrons ( ‾ ). Unstressed syllables, on the other hand, are marked by curved bars that are called breves ( ˘ ). In addition, forward slashes are used to show the measure of metre in a line. The following are some of the types of arrangements that are:

Monometer: This is a line with one foot, e.g. They 'prithee.

Dimeter: This is a line of verse that consists of two stressed syllables with other weak syllables, e.g. She 'wallows in her 'sadness.

Trimeter: This is a line of poetry that has three feet, e.g. 'Come to, 'roses 'call, me.

Tetrameter: This is a line of poetry that has four feet, e.g. At'tend the 'gladness of the 'sober 'man.

Pentameter: This is a line of poetry that has five feet, e.g. The 'gong as 'thong 'laid on their 'souls, is 'ill.

Hexameter: This is a line of verse with six feet, e.g. 'Cross the 'boundary, 'live in com'pulsion, 'carry your 'lead.

Heptameter: This is a line with seven stressed syllables, e.g. 'Take a'way your 'treasures, 'kill our de'sires; 'murder 'pleasures.

Octameter: This is an arrangement of eight feet on a line, e.g. De'part, de'part. 'Dark and your 'oneness, 'leave; I 'charge, I 'charge.

Now, we have learnt much about rhythm. I hope this is comprehensive enough for you, dear. If it is not, kindly share your question(s). Thank you.


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