This kind of meter is incredibly rare and is almost never used throughout an entire poem. As readers might imagine, writing a poem in which every line contains one unit of the meter could be very taxing. It may also, for some, not be worth reading. More commonly, readers will find poems in which some lines are written in monometer.
Monometer pronunciation: mah-no-mee-tuhr
Monometer is a type of poetic meter that a poet might choose to use in their writing. It occurs when the author decides to use two beats per line. These create one metrical unit.
In some cases, a writer might use groups of three beats (as seen below) to create one single foot. But, the former is far more common. Examples of monometer being used throughout an entire poem are hard to come by. But, the use of this kind of meter within a few lines, or just a single line, in a poem is far more common.
Types of Metrical Units
When seeking to understand monometer, it’s important to know what kind of metrical units one might find. Some of these are explored below:
- Iamb: contains one unstressed and one stressed syllable.
- Trochee: contains one stressed and one unstressed syllable.
- Spondee: contains two stressed syllables.
- Anapest: consists of three beats, two unstressed and one stressed.
- Dactyl: consists of three beats, one stressed and two unstressed.
Two far less common types of metrical feet are:
- Amphibrach: one stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable and ending with another stressed syllable.
- Pyrrhic: two unstressed syllables.
Readers might come upon iambics or trochees, most commonly, in monometer. Analyze the examples below to see if which type of metrical unit is used where.
Examples of Monometer
Upon His Departure Hence by Robert Herrick
This is the best-known example of monometer being used throughout an entire poem. This piece is fifteen lines long and uses two syllables per line. These are the units of meter that create monometer. The lines are quite haunting, told from the perspective of a deceased person. They dwell on their fate and the fact that they go to the grave “Unknown.”
Here are the lines of the poem:
I’ th’ grave:
The speaker bids whoever is reading the poem “Farewell” at the end. Readers might also note the use of a perfect rhyme scheme. The lines rhyme AAABBB, and so on, changing end sounds from the beginning to the end of the poem. This adds to the haunting feeling of the poem, making it feel like a chant.
Read more Robert Herrick poems.
In this poem, which was originally written in Spanish, readers can find examples of lines that could be described as being written in monometer. These are the shortest lines of the poem and are quite effective when they are contrasted with the longer lines that come before and after them. For example:
I want you to know
And then later on in the poem:
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.
Neruda intended this poem to be written in free verse, and in this translation it is. But, readers can note these shorter lines as examples of monometer. For example, “one thing” is an example of a trochee, and “that sail” is an example of an iamb.
Discover more Pablo Neruda poems.
Why Do Writers Use Monometer?
A writer might choose to use monometer within a line of structured verse because they want that line to stand out from the others. If a poem is written primarily in iambic pentameter and then readers find themselves on a line of iambic monometer they are likely to pay more attention to that line and to the ones that follow it. It’s a way of catching the reader’s attention, foreshadowing something important happening, and more.
More often than not, writers choose to use longer metrical patterns than monometers. Finding a poem written in iambic pentameter, trimeter, or tetrameter is far more common. Dimeter is even more common than monometer. This is due to the fact that it is somewhat challenging to write and not always pleasurable to read. In the Herrick example above, readers can see how the form serves an important purpose—to help the poem sound chant-like for foreboding.
A line that’s written in iambic monometer contains two syllables, the first of which is unstressed and the second of which is stressed. There is only this single poetic foot in the line.
Herrick’s ‘Upon His Departure Hence’ is one of the only well-known examples of monometer being used consistently throughout a poem in the English language.
A line that’s written in dimeter is composed of two poetic feet. For example, it might contain two iambs or two trochees. The line might also contain one of each or use another syllabic arrangement.
Related Literary Terms
- Alliterative Meter: a type of verse that focuses on alliteration as a way of creating a metrical structure. Alliteration is used rather than accents or rhymes.
- Burns Stanza: named for Scottish poet Robert Burns who popularized its use. It is a six-line stanza form that uses a rhyme scheme of AAABAB, and lines of tetrameter and dimeter.
- Hymn Stanza: uses a rhyme scheme of ABCB and alternates between iambic trimeter and iambic tetrameter.
- Poetic foot: refers to a unit of meter in poetry. It is a grouping of stressed and/or unstressed syllables.