Common metre, or common metre (also called common measure),[1] abbreviated C. M., is a poetic meter and verse form..


A stanza of common measure consists of four lines which of which the first and third are in iambic tetrameter (four metrical feet per line, with each foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable) and the second and fourth in  iambic trimeter (three metrical feet per line, with each foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable). The two tetrameter lines rhyme, as do the two trimeter lines, which gives  a rhyme scheme of a-b-a-b.

Common metert has historically been used for ballads such as Tam Lin, and hymns such as Amazing Grace and the Christmas carol O Little Town of Bethlehem. It has also been used for Advance Australia Fair, the national anthem of Australia.


Common metre is often used in hymns, like this one by John Newton. (see Meter (hymn))

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
- from John Newton's "Amazing Grace"

William Wordsworth's "Lucy Poems" are also in common metre.

A slumber did my spirit seal;
I had no human fears:
She seemed a thing that could not feel
The touch of earthly years.
- from William Wordsworth's "A slumber did my spirit seal"

Many of the poems of Emily Dickinson use ballad metre.

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The Carriage held but just Ourselves
And Immortality.
- from Emily Dickinson's poem #712

A modern example of ballad metre is the theme song to Gilligan's Island, making it possible to sing any other ballad to that tune. (Note that the first two lines actually contain anapaests in place of iambs; this is an example of how ballad metre is metrically less strict than common metre).

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
a tale of a fateful trip.
That started from this tropic port,
aboard this tiny ship.

Another modern example would be "House Of The Rising Sun" by The Animals.

There is a house in New Orleans,
They call the rising sun.
And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy,
And God, I know I'm one.

"Gascoigns Good Night", by the English Renaissance poet George Gascoigne, employs fourteeners.

The stretching arms, the yawning breath, which I to bedward use,
Are patterns of the pangs of death, when life will me refuse:
And of my bed each sundry part in shadows doth resemble,
The sundry shapes of death, whose dart shall make my flesh to tremble.
- from George Gascoigne's "Gascoigns Good Night"


Ballad meterEdit

A variant of the common meter is the ballad meter, used in both traditional and some modern ballads . Like common meter, it has stanzas of four iambic lines. The difference is that ballad meter is "less regular and more conversational"[2] than common metre.

The first and third lines in common meter normally have four stresses (tetrameter), and the second and fourth have three stresses (trimeter).[3] Ballad meter sometimes follows this stress pattern less strictly than common[2]

As well, ballad meter does not necessarily rhyme both sets of lines. Only the second and fourth lines must rhyme in ballad metre, in the pattern a-b-x-b.


Another closely related form is the fourteener, consisting of iambic heptameter couplets: instead of alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter, rhyming a-b-a-b or a-b-x-b, a fourteener joins the tetrameter and trimeter lines, converting four-line stanzas into couplets of seven iambic feet, rhyming a-a.[4]

The fourteener also gives the poet somewhat greater flexibility, in that its long lines invite the use of variably placed caesuras and spondees to achieve metrical variety, in place of a fixed pattern of iambs and line breaks.

See alsoEdit

References Edit

  1. Blackstone, Bernard., "Practical English Prosody: A Handbook for Students", London: Longmans, 1965. 97-8
  2. 2.0 2.1 "common metre". Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2008-07-30. 
  3. Horton, Ronald A. (1995). British Literature for Christian Schools. Bob Jones University. pp. 100-1, 718. 
  4. Kinzie, Mary. A Poet's Guide to Poetry. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999. 121-2, 414-5

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