How Poets Measure Stress

"All in one .." by #L98, CC by 2.0
“All in one ..” by #L98, CC by 2.0
This week in “The Pastime Machine,” chapter XIV force-feeds more Poetic Edda structure (Icelandic oral poetry of Norse mythology) to traditional sonnet form. The result is intentionally jarring—a matter of competing “feet” and “stress,” what poets call “measure.” (Hence the post title here.)

You may remember from high school English class that sonnets are traditionally iambic pentameter. That means five “feet” to a line, each “foot” an “iamb.” Sometimes teachers express this pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables as “daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM.”

In this chapter, “Thor set me down, with care to be less rough,” is a good example.

The Poetic Edda is instead trochaic tetrameter. That means four “feet” to a line, each “foot” a “trochee.” I doubt any high school teacher ever bothered defining that for you, but if they did, it would be “DUMda DUMda DUMda DUMda.”

In my chapter, “Stranger! Welcome! I hight Odin.” is a good example.

(For what it’s worth, Poetic Edda structure apparently also likes a conceptual split in the exact middle of each line. I think I’ve managed that, as well.)

So … whenever I have Thor or Odin speak in this section of the novel, I switch to trochaic tetrameter. Everywhere else, I preserve iambic pentameter. (It’s all part of the service.)

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