Verse is generally associated with poetry, though there are subtle differences between “verse” and “poetry”. To begin with, verse is writing that is divided into lines. Poetry need not follow this format, see for example Ania Walwicz's “Wogs”. A poem generally has certain formal or structural features, but really to be classified as a poem it must only have poetic qualities. Verse, however, is much more formal. Verse requires metre (a recurring pattern of rhythm), and usually but not always stanzas (groups of lines of verse) and rhyme. In short, poetry need not be verse, but verse must be poetry with certain technical attributes. If a group of poets versify in a similar way, they can be grouped together and referred to as a school of poets, for example the “Romantic school” which includes Wordsworth and Coleridge, Shelley and Keats.
When we discuss versification, we are generally discussing technical characteristics and mechanical “facts”. Versification therefore is the study and analysis of the basic framework that makes up the structure of verse. The most important of these technical attributes is metre. The presence of metre is fundamental as it creates the sound and sense of the verse. Metrical rhythms are comprised of stressed and unstressed syllables. Every word has its own accent, that is, stressed and unstressed syllables. Metre is the result of the pattern of the stressed and unstressed syllables that recurs throughout the verse. Composing metrical verse means making a certain pattern of metre recur and fixing the number of these recurring units in each line.
Each metrical unit is called a “foot”. Generally in metrical analysis the unstressed syllables are denoted by “x” and stressed syllables by “/” immediately above the line of verse. The five most common types of metrical feet encountered in verse are:
Iamb (iambic foot) x / Anapaest (anapaestic foot) x x /
Trochee (trochaic foot) / x Dactyl (dactylic foot) / x x
Spondee (spondaic foot) / /
The spondee or spondaic foot occurs most often in isolation near the beginning of a line which has another metrical pattern. The effect of this is to create emphasis at the beginning of a line. For example:
/ / x / x / x / x /
Milton! Thou shouldst be living at this hour
The above line begins with a spondee and is followed by four iambs.
There are also formal names for different lines of verse according to the number of metrical feet in that line:
A line of verse can be described then by referring to the kind of foot and the number of feet. If a line has four iambic feet, that line is called an iambic tetrameter. Usually, a poem will follow a general pattern of lines and feet. Once the metrical elements of the poem have been identified, it is then possible to ascertain whether the poem works through rising or falling metre. That is, if the unstressed syllables come first, such as in iambic and anapaestic feet, the verse is said to be in rising metre because of the move towards the emphasis. If the stressed syllable comes first, such as with trochaic and dactylic feet, the verse is in falling metre, as there is a fall away from the initial emphasis.
The ending of the line can also be described in formal terms. If a line ends with an additional unstressed syllable, it has a soft or feminine ending. If the line ends on a stressed syllable, which unlike the feminine ending is not additional, the line has a masculine ending.
The rhythm of the poem is also affected by what is called a caesura. This is a pause within a line, and can often only be found by reading the poem out loud. There is also a distinction between a natural pause at the end of a line, such as a line that also completes the end of a sentence, and a line of verse which runs on past the end of the line into the next one before pausing naturally. A line that ends naturally is an end-stopped line, while the other is a run-on line or enjambement.
Therefore, metrical rhythm is achieved through the repetition of lines having the same number of syllables, and the steady use of accent. Rhythm can also be established in verse through the patterned use of various words, sounds, and accents. Rhyme can also contribute to the overall rhythm.
In Studying Literature, Glyn Turton defines rhyme as “the effect produced by the repetition of the same sound or group of sounds, usually at the ends of lines of verse, in different words or groups of words” (p. 131). Within verse there can also be internal rhymes (rhymes within a single line of verse) and half-rhymes (sounds which are nearly rhymes through the repetition in accented syllables of the final consonant sound but without the correspondence of the vowel sound, such as peer/pair). Half-rhymes are used by the poets W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot and Emily Dickinson.
The two main functions of rhyme are to produce aesthetic satisfaction through the pleasing sounds of rhyme and to assist in the structure of the verse. The rhyme patterns are often connected with the metrical rhythm, and help organise the verse. Rhyme is also mnemonic, that is it has the added effect of making the verse easier to memorise.
Verse is also structured through stanzas. These are groups of lines of verse separated by a blank line on the page. Each stanza in proper verse has the same number of lines, line-lengths and rhyme scheme. A stanza is not the same as a verse paragraph, which is an irregular grouping of lines found in some poetry. The most common form of stanza is the quatrain, a grouping of four lines.
There are three main groups of poetic form as follows:
The term lyric comes from Ancient Greece. Originally it was verse for a single voice accompanied by the lyre and while our definition of the word has been extended, the ideas of ‘music' and single voice' still distinguish the lyric from other forms of poetry. Identifying features of a lyric are:
* A poem suitable for singing or being accompanied by music.
* A subjective work, speaking of personal thoughts and feelings.
* It usually is the development of a single thought or emotion
* It is usually relatively short
* Lyrics are very often dramatic.
* They generally follow a structure. First the experience, stimulus or motive, then thoughts arising from the motive provide the body of the work, followed by an adjustment or decision and ending with a reflective intellectual conclusion.
There are five main forms of lyrical poetry:
* The song-lyric – written specifically to be sung.
* The sonnet – a form of the song-lyric, the sonnet as we know it developed in Italy during the Renaissance and was imitated then developed by English writers.
* The ode – a dignified and lofty lyrical poem, not intensely personal and often longer than most other kinds of lyrics.
* The elegy – a lyric which is sad and wistful, an expression of mourning for that which is departed, very often a lament for the dead.
* The idyll – originally Greek for ‘little picture' usually referring to scenes of the blissful charm of rural life, romantically viewed.
Used for the telling of a story or an incident, the author needs to develop plot, characterisation, background and atmosphere. There are five main forms of narrative verse:
* The ballad – a story song about folk culture and often of anonymous or collective authorship. Literary ballads are an imitation of the original, usually written by a single author.
* The action-poem – concerned with an incident rather than a dramatic plot with the emphasis being on the graphic description of action.
* The epic – the grandest and noblest of all poetic forms. It treats a highly serious theme in a plot of large scope, with detailed treatment of all the parts.
* Dramatic poetry – a play in which the author uses verse. Good dramatic poetry uses iambic pentameter and works best when it is read aloud.
Didactic denotes a purpose of teaching or preaching. Broadly speaking most literature is didactic in as much as it has something to say, however in this particular form the primary purpose is to instruct the reader or persuade him to a point of view. There are two main types of didatic poetry:
* Discursive poetry – Pope's Essay on Man is a good example. Pope uses the Heroic couplet to set out a general philosophy of life. Some critics prefer to regard this kind of poetry as verse.
* Satire – a form of criticism by ridicule, caricature and similar devices. Once again some claim that these works may be great verse, but are not poetry.
Often poetry will be a blend of lyrical, narrative and didactic offering many sub-types in poetic form.