presented by Acoustic Learning

A Rational Guide to Verse
or, Scansion Made Simple

For students and actors:

This guide will help you interpret Shakespeare and other classical poetry. In these pages, you will find simple step-by-step instructions that show you how to analyze metered verse.  For the novice who has never worked with classical poetry, this guide provides an essential foundation of knowledge.  For the experienced reader or writer, its principles offer a new perspective to your ongoing work.  Using this guide, you will be able to “scan” any verse with accuracy and confidence.

For teachers and professionals:

This guide can help your students learn scansion.  Its approach to scansion is adapted from principles of verse set forth by Edgar Allan Poe and is supported by evidence from psycholinguistics and phonetic science.  This guide’s essential goal is to explain the rationale of verse— why verse is structured the way it is.  Poe’s rationale is grounded in fundamental laws of human perception and natural principles of speech.  You can adapt the rationale described here to help your students understand any approach to scansion.

Part One:  Understanding Verse

Verse is special language

When you read the following passages, you can feel their special quality.

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know,
By the name of Annabel Lee.

"It's a pretty good zoo,"
Said young Gerald McGrew,
"And the fellow who runs it
Seems proud of it, too."

What you feel is what makes these lines "verse."  The words themselves are ordinary English, but a writer has arranged those words so they produce a certain special quality.  That quality is the distinction that makes language verse.

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