Meter Essay

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The Quickening Effect of Iambic Tetrameter in Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”

Meter is technically defined as “what results when the natural rhythmic movements of colloquial speech are heightened, organized and regulated so that the pattern - which means repetition – emerges from the relative phonetic haphazard of ordinary utterance” (Fussell 5). Simply put, meter is the organization of regular, everyday language into a fixed, rhythmic pattern. In the English language, meter is used to measure both stressed and unstressed syllables, as well as the number of syllables present in a given line. Meter plays a key role in the composition and interpretation of poetry. It also functions as an important component in the overall effect, theme or mood of a poem. One poem that exemplifies the relevance of poetic meter in the overall comprehension and feeling of the poem is Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress.” This poem demonstrates the importance of poetic meter by using the metrical technique of iambic tetrameter combined with enjambment and rhyming couplets to enhance the resounding effect of the poem, time speeding by.

Marvell wisely chooses the metrical technique of iambic tetrameter to evoke a sense of time passing by. An iambic foot consists of “unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable” (Ferguson, Salter and Stallworthy 2030). Some examples of iambic words are destroy, behold and amuse. Tetrameter is the use of four feet, patterns or units of stressed and unstressed syllables, in a line. Therefore, iambic tetrameter is a four-stressed, eight-syllable line with alternating unstressed and stressed syllables. When reading the poem “To His Coy Mistress,” the overall effect of the iambic tetrameter is an elegant, smooth beat. It also gives a quickening effect because the lines are only composed of eight syllables. The lines, “And while thy willing soul transpires / At every pore with instant fires” (35-36) are a perfect...
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