English 102

Topics in the English Language: Meters of English Poetry

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2013 Hanson, Kristin
MWF 1-2 note new room: 130 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

The principal text for the course will be a draft of a book I am writing on meter in English.  The principal task will be practical scansion, with each student pursuing an extended exploration of the metrical practice of a poet of their choosing. Therefore, most materials will be either photocopies or electronic files which can be modified to allow ample room for scribbling on. Students should also expect to purchase a good edition of the works of the poet they choose to focus on, as will be discussed further in class.


This course is an introduction to the major meters of the English poetic tradition from a linguistic perspective. Beginning with the iambic pentameter of Shakespeare's Sonnets, we will explore its defining constraints on stress, syllable count and caesura placement, rhythmic variation these allow, expressive effects they create, and their relationship to rhythmic structure in language. We will then situate this meter historically, exploring its development from closely related forms in Romance languages, including Petrarch's Rime, and into various alternative forms of iambic pentameter in English, including those of Shakespeare's plays, Milton's Paradise Lost, and other English poetry. Finally, we will consider these several meters in relation to their still more distant ancestors in Old English and Classical Latin and Greek, and some of their descendents, including various forms of strong-stress and triple meters that came to be popular especially in the nineteenth century, in the work of such poets as Hopkins, Tennyson and Swinburne. Throughout, the main goal will be for students to become confident in ascertaining and describing metrical form and integrating it with consideration of other aspects of poetry. No prior background in metrics or linguistics or even English poetry is required.

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