What Is a Metrical Pattern in Poetry?

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Metrical patterns refer to the way a poet creates rhythm by arranging stressed and unstressed syllables within a line of poetry. Along with the length of the line, metrical patterns are the most basic technique a poet employs to create rhythm. Poets utilize a number of different metrical patterns to this end.

The five most common metrical patterns, or meters, in poetry are iambic, anapestic, trochaic, spondaic, and dactylic. The basic metrical unit is known as a foot. A foot is a combination of stressed and unstressed syllables. A line of poetry may be made up of one foot or 10 feet. One stressed syllable followed by one unstressed syllable is an example of an iambic foot, whereas an anapestic foot has two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable. In most cases, a foot contains either two or three syllable units. Metrical patterns play an important role in lyric poetry. Not all poetry is lyrical though, so not every poem contains a metrical pattern. A poem without meter is referred to as free verse. Simple metrical patterns are often associated with English poetry. For instance, all of Shakespeare’s plays are written in unrhymed iambic pentameter, also known as blank verse. His sonnets are written in traditional rhymed iambic pentameter.