When the Heart Skips a Beat: Poetic Meter

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Most people would agree that poetry is best read aloud.

I was fortunate to have had a mother who read poetry to me from the time I could walk. Our first shared poems included those of A. A. Milne:

The End

When I was One,

I had just begun.

When I was Two,


I was nearly new.


When I was Three

I was hardly me.


When I was Four,

I was not much more.


When I was Five,
 

I was just alive.

But now I am Six,
 I’m as clever as clever.

So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.

Having absorbed Milne’s satisfying dimeter, I wrote my first poem. It was an ode to sweet hot cereal.

Brown sugar

all around,

Up and down,

Oh, hear the happy sound.

I can still feel the movement of my spoon shmushing and melting the brown sugar into my cereal. 

Only now do I notice how this early poem breaks the rules by having two beats in each of the first three lines, followed by three beats in the last. At the same time, doesn’t that last line act as a stop to the forward motion of the poem—like a flashing yellow light and clanging bell signals the lowering of the bar for an oncoming train?

I’m currently adapting 19th century poetry by a well-known children’s book writer/illustrator to serve as voices for some of the magical creatures in my middle grade WIP. The original poems employed four feet to a line (tetrameter). Sometimes the rhythm was a bit “off”, but I liked the quirkiness and interest this created. Yet, people–editors, writing groups—warn that meter must be spot on if it’s to appear in a published work for children.

When did children become so picky?

On the other hand, I balk at poems that begin with a certain meter and change into something mushy and undefined. Once established, listeners depend upon a reliable meter—as reliable as a heartbeat, so that when the heart skips or rushes on, or god-forbid, stops—we sit up and take notice.

Two useful guides to poetic meter and stressed syllables:

https://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/documents/Meter_Handout.pdf

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/glossary-terms?category=rhythm-and-meter

Do you think poetry for children should follow a different set of rules than poetry for adults? I’d love to hear your comments.

Thank you for following my blog.

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