How to Scan

The word scan means "analyze a poem to determine its meter." If you have never scanned before, follow this method:

1. Read the lines of a poem aloud a number of times until you can feel or sense a rhythm.

2. Mark the unaccented ( " ) and accented ( ' ) stresses of each word in the poem.

3. Identify the sound(s) employed most often in the poem.

4. Mark off each sound with the symbol (I ) to designate feet per line. (Consult the section below to identify the various types.)

5. Combine the name of the sound with the name that represents the number of feet per line . . . and you will have determined the meter.

Types of Sounds

These are the primary combinations of light and hard stresses that make up accentual-syllabic meter:

Iamb (pronounced i-arn): One word or two monosyllabic words with a light/hard stress as in "today" or "a day." (This sound is conversational, a workhorse of the English language.)

Trochee (tro-ke): One word or two monosyllabic words with a hard/ light stress as in "timing" or "time me." (This sound adds emphasis, typically varying the iambic beat at the start of a line, or after a comma or other punctuation mark within a line. When used repeatedly in a line, it has an incantation tone.)

Anapest (an -a-pest): One word or a combination of words yielding two light stresses followed by a hard stress as in "villanelle" or "In a form." (The anapest has a tripping sound and usually quickens the pace of a poem.)

Dactyl (dak' -til): One word or a combination of words yielding one hard stress followed by two light stresses as in "calendar" or "prior to." (The dactyl varies the anapest in the same manner that the trochee varies the iamb. When used repeatedly in a line, the dactyl has a more grotesque incantation effect.)

Types of Variants

Meter analysis, or scansion, is an inexact science. For instance, one-syllable words may be light or hard, according to the preferred meter. One person may hear or pronounce a word differently from another person, as in "harass" or "harass" or "harass."

To adjust for pronunciation, poets employ two basic variants:

Pyrrhic (pir' -ik): Two light syllables usually (but not always) occurring at the end of a line: " | we hear | the sounds | of voi- | ces ech- | oing" with the final oing as the pyrrhic. (Note: When a pyrrhic ends a line, as above, the poet may count it as a complete foot or disregard it, depending on the desired meter.)

Spondee (spon -de): Two hard syllables usually (but not always)

following a pyrrhic: " | tlie sounds | of voi- | ces sigh- | ing for- | ever | " with the ever as the spondee. (Note: When a spondee follows a pyrrhic and ends a line, as above, the poet must count the pyrrhic and the spondee as two feet.)

Other Variants: Less common alternate sounds are the amphima-cer (am-fim' -e-ser) — hard/light/hard stress, as in the word variant) — and amphibrach (am' -fe-brak ) — light/hard/light stress, as in the word enjambment. Although the practice is discouraged, some poets claim the last hard stress of an amphimacer or the last light one of an amphibrach is hypermetric (beyond the measure) or truncated (below the measure), as needed, at the end of a line. Hypermetric syllable(s) are not counted but truncated ones are. Here are some examples:

| this four | beat line | excludes | van- | ants | this four| beat line | excludes | enjamb- 1 ment

| this five | beat line | Includes | vari- | ants \ | this five | beat line | Includes | enjamb- | ment |

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