This type of poetry is only concerned with how many stressed syllables a poet uses per line. It was common in Old Germanic alliterative verse and some unusual meters, like Gerard Manley Hopkins’ sprung rhythm. In all these examples, the poet had a predetermined number of stressed syllables to use per line. The number of unstressed or unaccented syllables they used did not matter.
Explore Strong-stress Meter
Strong-stress Meter Definition
The term “strong-stress meter” describes poetry in which the author uses a metrical pattern that depends entirely on stressed syllables.
They might determine, before starting the poem, that each line was going to have four stressed syllables. Then, as they write, they can use as many unstressed syllables as they see fit for each line of verse. For example, every line contains five stressed syllables, but the unstressed syllables vary from five to ten or even more.
The most commonly used examples of strong-stress meter are in accentual verse. In fact, the two terms can be used interchangeably, although “accentual verse” is far more common. The majority of accentual verse poems were penned in Old English. Contemporary examples are far rarer.
Examples of Strong-stress Meter
Christabel by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Coleridge’s ‘Christabel’ is a rare example of English-language poetry that uses accentual or strong-stress meter. It was composed in 1797, and it is made up of 337 lines. Coleridge famously wrote about the poem saying that “ the accents will be found to be only four.” Here are a few lines that demonstrate Coleridge’s use of strong-stress meter:
Is the night chilly and dark?
The night is chilly, but not dark.
The thin gray cloud is spread on high,
It covers but not hides the sky.
The moon is behind, and at the full;
And yet she looks both small and dull.
The night is chill, the cloud is gray:
For modern readers, it might appear as though the poem lacks meter entirely. But, according to his own writing about the text, he tried to use four stressed syllables in each line with a varying number of unaccented syllables.
Explore Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poetry.
Gerard Manley Hopkins and Sprung Rhythm
In this metrical pattern, the first syllable is stressed and is followed by several unstressed other syllables. That number can vary but be usually between one and four in Hopkins’s work. For example, here are a few lines from Hopkins’ famous poem, ‘Inversnaid’ in which the pattern can be observed:
This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.
Another well-known example of sprung rhythm is ‘The Windhover.’ In this poem, Hopkins wrote:
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
Although he hoped it would, Hopkins’ sprung rhythm did not catch on with poets during his lifetime. But, he is commonly cited as one of the major influences on the free verse writers of the 20th century.
Read more Gerard Manley Hopkins poems.
Why Do Writers Use Strong-Stress Meter?
Strong-stress verse is not commonly used in contemporary literature. But that doesn’t mean it has entirely fallen out of style. Some writers experiment with sections of strong-stress meter in their poetry, while others use it to create children’s poetry. It’s very common in nursery rhymes, like ‘Ba Ba Black Sheep.’
Some believe that accentual or strong-stress meter is a great way to mimic speech sounds (in comparison to iambic pentameter, which often feels very formal and slow). But, most contemporary poets do away with meter altogether.
Although this type of meter is uncommon today, it is fairly easy to write. As the writer, you need to determine how many stressed syllables you want per line. Maintain this predetermined number of syllables and use as many unstressed syllables as you see fit throughout.
The term refers to poetry that depends entirely on the number of stressed syllables per line. It is common in old English and Germanic alliterative verse.
The purpose is to create a specific rhyme scheme that’s not too overpowering but helps unify each line. Often, writers use this form of meter because it sounds less formal and more like everyday speech. This is what Gerard Manley Hopkins believed when he created his sprung rhythm.
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.
- Sprung Rhythm: a rhythmic pattern used in poetry that mimics natural speech.
- Anapest: two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed.
- Iambic Pentameter: one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable. The most popular metrical pattern.
- Dactyl: one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables. It is the opposite of an anapest.
- Spondee: an arrangement of two syllables in which both are stressed.