presented by Acoustic Learning

A Rational Guide to Verse
or, Scansion Made Simple

Part Two:  Analyzing Verse

Analysis confirms equality

When you're reading for pleasure, you don't need to analyze a verse.  All you need to do is read.  If a poet has done their job well, your reading naturally produces their intended rhythm.

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.

However, this doesn't always happen.  English is a complex language with hundreds of unique dialects.  What is naturally equal in a poet's dialect may be naturally unequal in yours.  Moreover, a poet may have written a rhythmical variation that only works if you say it their way.  When this happens, your natural reading will work against the poet's intention.

Using metrical analysis, you can discover where your natural reading creates inequalities-- and fix them.  Analyzing verse is not like editing, because you are not changing anything that a poet has created.  Just the opposite is true:  metrical analysis helps you discover the natural rhythmic structures a poet wants you to find.  This guide will show you how.

To get the most out of this section, you will want to find a sample of classical verse and work on that verse as you follow along.  Here, an example from Macbeth will illustrate each step.

My former speeches have but hit your thoughts,
Which can interpret further: only, I say,
Things have been strangely borne. The gracious Duncan
Was pitied of Macbeth: marry, he was dead:
And the right-valiant Banquo walk'd too late;
Whom, you may say, if't please you, Fleance kill'd,
For Fleance fled: men must not walk too late.
Who cannot want the thought how monstrous
It was for Malcolm and for Donalbain
To kill their gracious father? damned fact!
How it did grieve Macbeth! did he not straight
In pious rage the two delinquents tear,
That were the slaves of drink and thralls of sleep?
Was not that nobly done? Ay, and wisely too;
For 'twould have anger'd any heart alive
To hear the men deny't. So that, I say,
He has borne all things well: and I do think
That had he Duncan's sons under his key--
As, an't please heaven, he shall not-- they should find
What 'twere to kill a father; so should Fleance.
But, peace! For from broad words, and 'cause he failed
His presence at the tyrant's feast,
I hear Macduff lives in disgrace.  Sir, can you tell
Where he bestows himself?

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