How do I identify and then analyse metre in poetry

It is important to remember that it is bad practice to bring up the metre of the poem and then not use this in the analysis of the text. While being able to identify metre is impressive, a good student will demonstrate how this adds meaning to the text. Metre in English poetry is based upon stressed and unstressed syllables and these are then grouped into feet of two or three syllables or 'beats'. Identifying these feet is far easier than it seems, the best strategy is to read the line out loud and see what syllables you naturally stress. For example, when you say the word 'English' you naturally stress the 'Eng' and leave the '-lish' unstressed. Poems with a specific metre will repeat the same feet, with the most common metre of iambic pentameter being an unstressed syllable being followed by a stressed syllable. While the 'Iambic' refers to the feet that are used (Unstressed-Stressed), the pentameter refers to the number of feet in a line (pentameter being five). Other forms of feet include trochees, dactyls and anapaests.
When analysing how the metre grants meaning to the text there are many observations you can make. Deviations from the metre being used can be pointed to as creating a sense of uncertainty and confusion such as Hamlet's line 'To be or not to be, that is the question' deviating from iambic pentameter in the second half. You can also point to the syllables that are stressed or unstressed to show importance or a lack of it. Different feet and metres also carry some contextual meaning such as anapaests being traditionally used in comic poems such as limericks.

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