How to Understand Poetic Dimeter in Robert Frost's Poems
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How to Understand Poetic Dimeter in Robert Frost's Poems

Iambic dimeter is a short, simple poetic meter. Meter in poetry lends meaning and emphasis and enhances the enjoyment of the thought or message contained in it.

Poetry is a defined and restricted and limited form. Some poetic forms define line length, meter, and the shape of the verse or stanza. The art is found in shaping a meaningful thought or observation to fit the pattern the poet has chosen, and meter is integral to that pattern.

Meter is present in the beating of your heart, footfalls on the pavement, thumping of the helicopter blades, and repetition of the seasons. Meter is all around us, and poetry, too, is subject to its regulation. Meter helps define emphasis and highlights focus. Meter sets a mood or suggests a scene. Meter should not be so restrictive that the meaning is lost, but, instead, is enhanced by it.

Meter is present in prose as well as poetry, but in prose it is variable, looser if you will, controlled by other factors.

In discussing meter and its value, I find myself influenced by many poets, not the least of which is Robert Frost. Frost is noted for his success in adapting his poetry to the normal speech patterns, and the clipped New England dialect is often heard in his works. Sometimes the very simplicity of Frosts poems belies the exacting effort he used to achieve their readable power.

Dust of Snow

By Robert Frost

The way a crow

Shook down on me

The dust of snow

From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart

A change of mood

And saved some part

Of a day I had rued.

This poem is one simple sentence and yet it captures a scene, a mood, and a story. My object in the beginning was to discuss meter and its impact in the poem. This is not aimless wandering, but poetry is set in a landscape of light and shadows. The meter is vital, but it is not the only factor to view. When you read this poem, the meter is obviously iambic dimeter—that means there are two feet to each line. An iambic foot is composed of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. “The” is unstressed and “way” is stressed. To scan it we can use “u” for unstressed and “x” for stressed—ux.

The first three lines are absolutely regular: each one has the same pattern.




In the fourth line the pattern alters slightly: uux ux. There is an additional syllable and the word hemlock is broken in half.

The second verse continues the variety:

uxu ux

ux ux

ux ux

uux uux

The variety does not destroy the pattern, but it makes it readable and interesting. Meter consists of a great variety of patterns and stresses and pauses, and they all help to make the poem meaningful. The last word of the poem is stressed and seems to be the focus toward which the poem was pointed. The unstressed “had” is important, too. Rue is not a common word, and the significance is heightened by its rarity.

Go back and read it again. Change the stresses and see how it changes the meaning. Isn’t poetry fun?

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Comments (3)

Yea,poetry is fun.You made the concept of meter quite enjoyable. Have you written any article on the prosody of English poem? I think a series on prosody will enlighten the poem lovers. Good luck,Gayle.

Thanks syed abedin. I love poetry, and your suggestion is one I can run with. It may take me a few days though.

I feel honored that you have accepted my suggestion.