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Tetrameter

The term “tetrameter” refers to a line of poetry that includes four metrical feet. These feet may conform to various metrical forms. 

Lines of tetrameter are only second in popularity two lines of pentameter. Below, readers can explore a few of the types of syllables that one might find in poetry: 

  • 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. 
  • Amphibrach: one stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable and ending with another stressed syllable. 
  • Pyrrhic: two unstressed syllables.

More often than not, poets choose to pair iambs or trochees with tetrameter. This means that lines are written in iambic tetrameter or trochaic tetrameter.

Tetrameter pronunciation: teh-trah-meh-tur 

Tetrameter definition and examples


Tetrameter Definition

A line of “tetrameter” refers to a poetic line that contains four sets of beats. This could be four iambs, trochees, anapests, etc.

While tetrameter is popular, it is only secondary to pentameter (a line with five beats). As readers of poetry will be aware, poets commonly switch between metrical patterns within their lines of verse. For example, in a ballad poem, it is common to find alternating lines of iambic trimeter and iambic tetrameter. Or, a poet might insert a few lines of tetrameter while keeping their other lines in free verse (meaning there is no metrical pattern). Poets might choose to use one or more of the following: 

  • Monometer: one beat per line
  • Dimeter: two beats per line
  • Trimeter: three beats per line
  • Tetrameter: four beats per line 
  • Pentameter: five beats per line

The last three (trimeter, tetrameter, and pentameter) are by far the most popular. Finding a poem written in dimeter or monometer is very rare. 

Examples of Tetrameter in Poetry 

A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore 

This well-known poem, commonly known as ‘’Twas the night before Christmas,’ is usually attributed to Moore. It is a great example of tetrameter. Specifically, it is written in anapaestic tetrameter. This means that the lines contain four sets of three syllables. They follow the pattern of two unstressed and one stressed beat. Consider these lines:

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

The first line is marked, in bold, with the stressed syllables. It should also be noted that often when a poem uses a more complex metrical pattern (anapests, dactyls, etc.), the poet might break the pattern for one or more syllables in a line before restarting it. Additionally, while it’s not the case in this example, anapests are often used to make a poem feel humorous.

Read more Clement Clarke Moore poems

The Destruction of Sennacherib by Lord Byron

This less-commonly read Byron piece is a narrative poem that retells the story of how God destroyed King Sennacherib’s Assyrian army as they attacked the city of Jerusalem. The poem is written primarily in anapestic tetrameter. It is used, scholars believe, to mimic the sound of galloping horses. Here are the first few lines: 

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,

And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;

And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,

When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

As noted above, it is common for the poet to insert other beats into lines of the meter. For example, in line six, the first set of syllables is an iamb. It reads: 

That host with their banners at sunset were seen:

“That host” is an iamb, meaning that the word “that” is unstressed and “host” is stressed. “With their ban-,” “ners at sun,” and “set were seen” are all anapests. Despite this change, the line is still an example of tetrameter. 

Discover more of Lord Byron’s poetry

Trees by Joyce Kilmer 

This popular poem was written in February of 1913 and was first published in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. It is written in very consistent iambic tetrameter. This means that each line of the poem contains eight syllables, divided into sets of iambs. The first four lines read: 

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

The first line contains the iambs: “I think | that I | shall nev- | er see. “

Explore Joyce Kilmer’s poetry.

FAQs 

What does tetrameter mean in poetry?

The word “tetrameter” refers to the number of syllables that a reader can find in an individual line of verse. In every line of a poem written consistently in tetrameter, there are eight syllables. These can be divided into sets of two or three, with some alterations.

What is iambic tetrameter in literature?

This is a type of meter in poetry. It refers to a line that contains four sets of two beats. The first of which is unstressed and the second of which is stressed. It is one of the more common examples of meter in English language poetry.

How many syllables are in tetrameter?

There are four sets of syllables in tetrameter, usually totally eight. This can be compared to other forms, like trimeter and pentameter, which have three and five sets of syllables. 


  • 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.
  • Iambic Dimeter: a type of meter used in poetry. It occurs when the writer uses two iambs per line of verse.
  • Iambic Pentameter: a very common way that lines of poetry are structured. Each line has five sets of two beats, the first is unstressed and the second is stressed.
  • Monometer: a type of meter that uses single units of meter per line of verse. It could use a single iamb, trochee, etc.


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