The term “weak ending” is usually used as an alternative to a “feminine ending.” Today, it’s common to see the terms used interchangeably. These ends are not a rare occurrence in poetry. But, finding them can be a challenge. This is because it requires a solid understanding of what metrical pattern a poet is using and how to interpret each syllable. The divisions of feet (iambs, trochees, anapests, etc.) are also important to find weak endings in poetry.
Explore Weak Ending
Weak Ending Definition
A weak ending occurs when a line of verse ends with an unstressed syllable. This is usually a preposition or another word, the object of which is found on the next line.
For example, ending a line with the word “on” or “after.” This clearly weak or feminine ending requires readers to move down to the next line to figure out what the preposition is attached to.
It’s not uncommon for lines to end with two weak or feminine syllables. For example, consider these lines from William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
And even for that do I love you the more.
I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius,
The more you beat me, I will fawn on you.
Use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me,
Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave
(Unworthy as I am) to follow you.
What worser place can I beg in your love
(And yet a place of high respect with me)
Than to be usèd as you use your dog?
These lines are spoken by Helena in Act II Scene 1. The first line ends with the masculine “more,” and lines two and three ends with two weak syllables, “tri-us” and “on you.” This varies Shakespeare’s use of iambic pentameter.
Weak and Strong Endings
Weak endings are the opposite of strong, also known as masculine endings. The latter refers to a line of verse that ends with a stressed syllable, often a stressed syllable that falls outside the metrical pattern used in most lines.
For example, a poem written in iambic pentameter uses the regular five sets of two beats (the first of which is unstressed and the second of which is stressed) but has a line that adds on an extra stressed syllable at the end.
Examples of Weak Endings in Poetry
This famous speech from As You Like contains a few examples of weak endings. Consider lines two and three particularly. They end with the words “players” and “entrances” the final syllable in both words is unstressed or weak.
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Not only do these lines end with an unstressed syllable, but it’s also an extra syllable. This makes the lines stand out among those around them.
Discover William Shakespeare’s poems.
In this commonly read poem, Longfellow uses both feminine and masculine endings. It serves as a great example of the ways that these different endings impact the reader’s interpretation of the lines. For example, consider the first stanza:
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!—
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
The first and third lines have weak endings, “numbers” and “slumbers,” while the second and fourth have masculine or strong endings, “numbers” and “slumbers.” These rhyming pairs are also known as feminine and masculine rhymes.
Read more poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken by John Newton
This less-commonly read poem uses couplets and is written in trochaic tetrameter with alternating the lines between weak and strong endings. The odd-numbered lines have weak endings, and the even-numbered lines have strong endings. For example:
Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God;
He whose word cannot be broken
Formed thee for his own abode;
On the Rock of Ages founded,
What can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded,
Thou may’st smile at all thy foes.
The words “spoken,” “broken,” “founded,” and “surrounded” have weak endings. This is fairly easy to interpret considering the solid-sounding construction of words like “God,” “abode,” and “repose.”
Poets use weak endings to change the pace of a particular part of their poem. For example, if most lines are strong endings with stresses and then they use weak endings, it will capture the reader’s attention. They’re commonly used in combination with masculine endings to vary the impact of each line.
Also known as a feminine ending, a weak ending refers to an unstressed syllable at the end of a line of verse. Often, these syllables do not match with the rest of the metrical pattern. They may be extra in comparison to the lines around them.
In the famous speech “All the world’s a stage” from William Shakespeare’s As You Like it, he uses two weak endings, “players” and “entrances,” in lines two and three. This makes the lines stand out from the others.
The two terms are generally considered to be the same thing. Some writers prefer to use one over the other, but more often than not, they are interchangeable.
Related Literary Terms
- Meter: is the pattern of beats and arrangement of stresses in a line of poetry.
- Iambic Pentameter: is a common meter in poetry in which there are a set of five iambs or iambic feet.
- Masculine Ending: occurs when the final syllable of a metered verse line is stressed or long.
- Feminine Rhyme: is a rhyme made up of two unstressed syllables.
- Masculine Rhyme: occurs when the final stressed syllables of verse lines rhyme together.
- Trochaic Pentameter: an uncommon form of meter. It refers to lines of verse that contain five sets of two beats, the first of which is stressed and the second is unstressed.
- Read: Everything You Need to Know about Rhyme Schemes in Poetry
- Watch: What is Meter in Poetry?
- Watch: Scansion 101