There are many different poetic meters. But you can get through 90% of all poems by knowing this simple mnemonic device which will allow you to memorize the most basic (and most common) poetic feet. When the accent is on the second syllable of a two syllable word (con-tort), the foot is an "iamb"; the reverse accentual pattern (tor-ture) is a "trochee." Other feet that commonly occur in poetry in English are the "anapest" (two unaccented syllables followed by an accented syllable as in in-ter-cept), and the "dactyl" (an accented syllable followed by two unaccented syllables as in su-i-cide). The chart below lays them out for you, as well as one other common foot, the "spondee" (two accented syllables in a row).
|A||Anapest||ᵕ ᵕ /||Grand Marquis||Buccaneers|
|D||Dactyl||/ ᵕ ᵕ||Cadillac||Patriots|
|S||Spondee||/ /||X-5||White Sox|
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
from "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening," by Robert Frost.
Earth, receive an honoured guest;
William Yeats is laid to rest:
Let this Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.
from "In Memory of W.B. Yeats," by W.H. Auden.
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro' the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
from "A Visit From St. Nicholas," by Clement Moore.
Liked to use dashes
Instead of full stops.
Nowadays, faced with such
Critics and editors
Send for the cops.
"Emily Dickinson," by Wendy Cope.
This verse form is called the "Double Dactyl." There are two stanzas, each with three lines of dactylic dimeter and a line of just a choriamb ( / ˘ ˘ / ). The last lines of the stanzas rhyme. The first line of the first stanza is repetitive nonsense - the originals all began with the alternate name for this form: "higgledy-piggledy." The second line of the first stanza is the subject of the poem, a proper noun. This name must itself be double-dactylic. At least one line of the second stanza must be entirely one double dactyl word.