‘Metrical Feet’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge talks about different metrical feet and provides a basic description of those feet. The poet wrote this poem for instructing his son, Derwent Coleridge.
Coleridge, one of the lake poets, defines a few metrical feet in this poem. While reading the poem, one must have some basic knowledge about the various meters used in poetry. Otherwise, terms such as, “long” and “short” may create confusion. However, if one is aware of the jargon of scansion and meter, it can be understood easily. Coleridge wrote this poem for his child, Derwent Coleridge. Moreover, the second stanza makes it clear why the poet wrote this poem. He hoped one day his son would be a great poet if he mastered the technical aspects of poetry along with the creative and emotive ones.
Summary of Metrical Feet
In the first stanza of the poem, Coleridge talks about several metrical feet such as trochee, spondee, dactyl, iamb, anapest, amphibrach, and amphimacer. The poet uses layman’s terms to discuss those meters. As an example, the definition of trochee, according to the poet, is, “Trochee trips from long to short.” Thereafter, in the second stanza, the poet advises his son, Derwent to be “innocent, steady, and wise.” Additionally, if he is close to nature he can be a great poet in the future. At last, Coleridge says, no matter what he will always remain his true admirer and love him.
Structure of Metrical Feet
It is interesting to note here that, in this poem, the poet talks about several metrical feet while this poem is not in any specific metrical scheme! Another amazing fact of this poem is that some lines of the first stanza contain the metrical feet talked about in those lines. As an example, Coleridge defines trochee in the first line and this line is in trochaic tetrameter. The last foot is catalectic. Thereafter, in the third line, “Spon–dee stalks” and “strong foot” are spondees. Apart from that, the overall poem contains a regular rhyme scheme. The poem follows the AABB rhyme scheme.
Literary Devices in Metrical Feet
In Coleridge’s ‘Metrical Feet’, there are several literary devices that elucidate the technical aspects of the metrical schemes. As an example, the poet uses personification to define trochee, spondee, and anapest. Thereafter, the poet uses alliteration in the poem. As an example, “Trochee trips,” “Slow Spondee stalks,” and “stately stride” contain alliterations. The poet uses a metaphor in “strong foot.” Here the poet compares the sound made by a spondee to the sound of the footsteps of a strong person. Moreover, in the last line of the first stanza, “Strikes his thundering hoofs like a proud high-bred Racer,” the poet uses a simile. Thereafter, in the second stanza, “My dear, dear child!” contains an apostrophe and a palilogy as well.
Analysis of Metrical Feet
Trochee trips from long to short;
From long to long in solemn sort
Slow Spondee stalks, strong foot!, yet ill able
Ever to come up with Dactyl’s trisyllable.
The first stanza of the poem begins with a description of the metrical feet. Firstly, Coleridge talks about a trochee, a foot containing a long or stressed syllable followed by an unstressed or short syllable. Here, the poet personifies a trochaic foot. It seems that this foot trips like a child from the long syllable to the short one. Thereafter, the poet says, a spondee is a slow but strong foot. It stalks from a long syllable to the neighboring long syllable solemnly.
The dactyl, a trisyllabic foot, is similar to a trochee. It contains a stressed syllable at the beginning, and two short sounds follow the long sound. According to the poet, an ill-able poet takes recourse to this foot. However, this foot is an uncommon one and not used in most of the poems.
Iambics march from short to long.
With a leap and a bound the swift Anapests throng.
One syllable long, with one short at each side,
Amphibrachys hastes with a stately stride —
First and last being long, middle short, Amphimacer
Strikes his thundering hoofs like a proud high-bred Racer.
In poetry, the popular foot is iambic. At the beginning of this section, Coleridge defines it. An iambic foot consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, giving the foot a rising rhythm. Here the poet compares the sound made by an iambic foot to the sound of marching metaphorically. Thereafter, the speaker of the poem talks about the trisyllabic variation of an iamb. It is anapestic. An anapestic foot is composed of three syllables. Like an iambic foot, an anapest contains a stressed syllable at the end.
According to the poet, the swift anapests throng with a leap and bound, in a poem. It gives an idea to the readers of how an anapestic foot accelerates the pace of the poem. Thereafter, he features two uncommon feet. These are amphibrach and amphimacer. The poet says, “One syllable long, with one short at each side,/ Amphibrachys hastes with a stately stride.” It means an amphibrach consists of two unstressed syllables at the beginning and the end. The stressed syllable lies in the middle.
Whereas, an amphimacer, “middle short” and the “first and last being long”, “Strikes his thundering hoofs like a proud high-bred Racer.” Here the poet compares the long syllables to the hoofs of a horse. The sound made by this foot is like the thundering sound of the hoofs of a “high-bred Racer.”
If Derwent be innocent, steady, and wise,
And delight in the things of earth, water, and skies;
Tender warmth at his heart, with these meters to show it,
With sound sense in his brains, may make Derwent a poet —
In the second stanza of the poem, ‘Metrical Feet’, the poet directly addresses his son Derwent. From this section, it becomes clear that the poet wrote this poem for teaching his son about the metrical feet used in poetry. However, the poet says if his son is innocent, steady, and wise, and delights in the things of earth, water, and skies, he will become great at his poetic skills. Moreover, Coleridge says those meters will help his son to express the “Tender warmth at his heart.” With sound sense in his brains, Derwent may become a poet like his father.
May crown him with fame, and must win him the love
Of his father on earth and his father above.
My dear, dear child!
Could you stand upon Skiddaw, you would not from its whole ridge
See a man who so loves you as your fond S.T. Coleridge.
If Derwent learns the teachings of his father, he can win the love of his father and his father above. Here, the poet uses a metaphor for God in this phrase, the “father above.” Thereafter, the poet says to his dearest son that if he stands upon the Skiddaw, a mountain in the Lake District and one of the tallest in England, he would not see a man from the ridge who so loves him as his fond father, Coleridge. These lines display how much the poet loves his son.
Historical Context of Metrical Feet
The original title of the poem is, ‘Metrical Feet: Lesson for a Boy’. Primarily, the poet wrote this poem for Derwent Coleridge, the third son of him. Derwent started learning Greek before he was seven years old. In 1807, Samuel sent Derwent a letter. In that letter, he wrote:
I am greatly delighted that you are so desirous to go on with your Greek; and shall finish this letter with a short lesson of Greek. (Source: Derwent Coleridge—The Romantic Child by Raimonde Hainton)
After a month, he sent his son another letter in which he wrote this poem. Though Coleridge intended this poem only to help his son learn poetic meter, it became one of the best poems by Coleridge and found a larger audience.
Here is a list of a few poems that are similar to Coleridge’s ‘Metrical Feet’:
- Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins – It’s one of the best Billy Collins poems and here the poet concerns how to read a poem.
- Poem by Eeyore by A.A. Milne – It’s a humorous poem written by Eeyore, a famous character from Winnie-the-Pooh books.
- Eating Poetry by Mark Strand – This poem depicts a man’s obsessive poetry eating and a librarian’s reaction.
- Poetry by Marianne Moore – In this short poem, the poet discusses her feelings about poetry.