by Aneta Reuter
Editor’s Note: This article might be a help to new or aspiring poets. For myself, I’ve never thought much about the “rules of poetry” when composing songs, but I did spend many years reading some of the great poets of the Christian faith (Watts, Wesley, Keble, Herbert, and many others), and listening to the great church music of the past, and trying to absorb the spirit, and the feel of the poems and songs. In a way, this was a study of the “rules” of poetry, but more by admiration and impression. This helped me come out of the superficiality of our modern generation, in which impulses are put above reason, and rules are discarded in order to follow the feelings of the flesh.
But any principles of poetry that are true, are simply based on natural law. When we are unfamiliar with the law of a thing, it is good to study it. But when we understand it well, and have it’s principles ingrained within us, we will “do by nature the things contained in the law“; we will naturally follow right and proper principles, without having to keep a long list of rules. An apple tree does not need to study the book on apple trees, in order to know how to produce good apples! So may it be with us, but it takes some time and effort, and a willingness to discard any “wild” ways that are against the laws of nature, which are the laws of love.

Information gleaned from the Rod and Staff English books 5 and 6

Rhythm in our speech is gained by us putting more emphasis on one syllable of a word than another. Words can have emphasis at the:

  • beginning: “eating”, “happy”, and “Sarah”;
  • middle: “accentuate”, “intimidate”, and “perpetuate”; or
  • end: “because”, “until”, “supreme”, “beyond”, and “beside”.

Some words can have two places of emphasis. “Restaurant” and “activate” are two examples.

The most common emphasis, however, is that at the beginning of the word. Looking at words all around you will prove this.

Usually, rhythm is not organized into any particular pattern, and it rises and falls all over the place, just like these few sentences have.

However, with care and thought, sentences can be arranged so that the emphasis rises and falls in a recurring, consistent manner, which is pleasing to the ear. This is a part of poetry.

There are 4 main types of rhythm used in poetry. A foot is the piece of rhythm which is repeated.

  • Iambic: each foot has one unaccented syllable, followed by one accented syllable:
    ~  ,   ~   ,  ~   ,  ~  ,
    A host of golden daffodils

    This style gives the poem a light, cheerful, optimistic sound; good for themes of joy or beauty.

  • Trochaic: each foot has one accented syllable, followed by one unaccented syllable.
      ,  ~    ,   ~    ,   ~    ,   ~     ,    ~   ,   ~   ,   ~   ,
    Courage, brother!  Do not stumble, though thy path be dark as night

    This style is much more serious and tends to be best suited for deep thoughts and sober words. The theme of such a poem can be earnest or enthusiastic.

  • Anapestic: each foot has two unaccented syllables, followed by one accented syllable.
      ~     ~   ,   ~   ~   ,  ~   ~    ,   
    There’s a land that is fairer than day

    This style is light and flowing, and is most similar to common speech. In other words, it is most natural sounding.

  • Dactylic: each foot has one accented syllable, followed by two unaccented syllables.
    ,  ~  ~   ,    ~   ~   ,  ~   ~   ,
    I am so glad that our Father in heav’n

    This tends to create a happy and delightful theme.

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