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Falling Rhythm

The term “falling rhythm” refers to a rhythmic pattern that’s created through repeated metrical feet. These feet use a stressed beat followed by an unstressed beat or an accented syllable followed by an unaccented syllable.

Falling rhythm is a complicated-sounding term for something very common in poetic composition. It occurs when a poet arranges the syllables so that an unstressed syllable always follows a stressed syllable. One of the best examples is the short, well-known phrase “Jack and Jill went up the hill.” With the stressed syllables bolded, the line looks like this: 

Jack and Jill went up the hill

The word “Jack” is stressed and is followed by “and,” which is unstressed. The same thing occurs with “Jill” and “went” as well as “up” and “the.” 

Falling Rhythm Definition and Examples


Falling Rhythm Definition

Falling rhythm describes a metrical pattern that occurs when the stress falls on the first syllable of each metrical foot. The second syllable is unstressed, creating a feeling of falling off the accented word. It’s very common in English literature, although not quite as common as its opposite—rising rhythm. 

Falling Rhythm and Trochees 

Poems written in falling rhythm are usually composed of trochees. This is the term given to two-syllable feet that contain one stressed syllable and one unstressed syllable. Trochees are the second most common metrical foot in English-language poetry, proceeded only by the iamb. Often, poems that use trochees are written in trochaic tetrameter. This means that each line of a poem contains four trochees. Other patterns trochees appear in are: 

  • Trochaic Trimeter— a meter that consists of three sets of two beats, the first of which is stressed and the second unstressed.
  • Trochaic Heptamer— a meter that consists of seven stressed syllables in one line. It is often breaking the consistent structure of a trochee.
  • Trochaic Pentameter— a meter that consists of five stressed syllables in one line.


Examples of Falling Rhythm in Poetry 

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

‘The Raven’ is a famous example of a falling rhythm. The poem is written in trochaic octameter (with a few notable exceptions). This means that each line contains eight feet (in this case, trochees). Here are the famous opening lines:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—

            Only this and nothing more.”

Focusing on the first line, take a look at the placement of the stressed syllables (seen in bold) and the way that this changes the way the line comes across: 

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

If this line is read slowly (which the meter should already encourage readers to do), the pattern is quite clear. 

Read more Edgar Allan Poe poems.

In Memory of W.B. Yeats by W.H. Auden

In ‘In Memory of W.B. Yeats, ’ Auden explores themes like life after death, the power of poetry, and the human condition, all while dedicating the verse to famed Irish poet W.B. Yeats. Here are the first lines of this short poem:

In the deserts of the heart

Let the healing fountain start,

In the prison of his days

Teach the free man how to praise.

Focus on the first line and take a look at the arrangement of stresses (the stressed syllables are bolded): 

In the deserts of the heart

Let the healing fountain start,

While Auden maintains the pattern of trochees at the beginning of each line, the lines do conclude with a variation away from the pattern (another stressed syllable without a corresponding unstressed syllable). This is known as a catalectic. To make the line metrically “complete,” Auden would’ve added one more word at the end of these lines. 

Why do Poets Use Falling Rhythm?

There are several reasons why a poet might choose to utilize falling rhythm. This kind of meter is slower but with a momentum that leads the reader forward. It is often used to increase the drama of verse, such as in ‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allan Poe and The Tyger’ by William Blake.

FAQs 

What is an example of a rhythm?

Rhythm in poetry refers to the up, and down sound words make depending on where the poet puts them in a line and how they are naturally emphasized. For example, “Once upon a midnight dreary” from ‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allan Poe uses alternating stressed and unstressed syllables. “Once” is stressed, followed by “upon,” which is made of one unstressed beat (“up”) and one stressed (“-on). 

What is rising rhythm in poetry? 

A rising rhythm is the opposite of a falling rhythm. It occurs when the syllables in a line of verse are arranged so that an unstressed or unaccented word or part of a word comes first, followed by a sound that is stressed. For example, “invite,” “devise,” and “beset” all start with an unstressed syllable and end with a stressed syllable; this is known as a rising rhythm. 

What are metrical feet in poetry?

The term “foot” in poetry is applied to a set of syllables. A single line of a poem (one that is written with a metrical pattern, that is) will contain a series of feet (or sets of syllables). These feet can consist of different arrangements of syllables (stressed and unstressed). 

What is a trochee?

A trochee is a metrical foot. It is one of the most common metrical feet in English-language poetry and is best known as part of a specific metrical pattern—trochaic tetrameter. 


Related Literary Terms 

  • Free Verse: lines are unrhymed, and there are no consistent metrical patterns. But that doesn’t mean it is entirely without structure.
  • Blank Verse: poetry that is written in unrhymed lines but with a regular metrical pattern.
  • Anapestic Meter: two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed.
  • Iambic Pentameter: one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable. The most popular metrical pattern.
  • Dactylic Meter: one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables. It is the opposite of an anapest.
  • Spondee Meter: an arrangement of two syllables in which both are stressed.


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