A Fourteener, in poetry, can mean either:

  1. A synonym for quatorzain, or 14-line poem, such as a sonnet;
  2. A line consisting of 14 syllables, usually composed in iambic heptameter, found most often in English poetry produced in the 16th and 17th centuries. Fourteeners often appear as rhymed couplets, in which case they may be seen as ballad stanza or Common meter hymn quatrains in two rather than four lines.


Samuel Johnson in his Lives of The English Poets comments upon the importance of fourteeners to later English lyric forms saying "as these lines had their caesura always at the eighth syllable, it was thought in time commodious to divide them; and quatrains of lines alternately consisting of eight and six syllables make the most soft and pleasing of our lyric measures".[1] These quatrains of eight and six syllables (or more loosely, lines of 4, 3, 4, and 3 beats) are known as common meter.

C. S. Lewis, in his English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, castigates the 'lumbering' poulter's measure (p. 109). He attributes the introduction of this 'terrible' meter to Thomas Wyatt (p. 224). In a more extended analysis (pp. 231–2), he comments:

The medial break in the alexandrine, though it may do well enough in French, becomes intolerable in a language with such a tyrannous stress-accent as ours: the line struts. The fourteener has a much pleasanter movement, but a totally different one: the line dances a jig.

The poets Surrey, Tuberville, Gascoigne, Golding and others all used the Poulter's Measure, the rhyming fourteener with authority.[2]

Illustrations Edit

  • Emily Dickinson frequently used iambic heptameter reworked as ballad stanzas, for example:
Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.
  • The Gravemind from the Halo Trilogy speaks in fourteeners.
Who have so leaden eyes, as not to see sweet beauty's show,
Or seeing, have so wooden wits, as not that worth to know?
  • Sidney's friend, the translator Arthur Golding, was extremely fond of fourteeners:
Now have I brought a work to end which neither Jove's fierce wrath,
Nor sword, nor fire, nor fretting age with all the force it hath
Are able to abolish quite. Let come that fatal hour
Which (saving of this brittle flesh) hath over me no power,
And at his pleasure make an end of mine uncertain time.
Yet shall the better part of me assured be to climb
Aloft above the starry sky. And all the world shall never
Be able for to quench my name. For look how far so ever
The Roman empire by the right of conquest shall extend,
So far shall all folk read this work. And time without all end
(If poets as by prophecy about the truth may aim)
My life shall everlastingly be lengthened still by fame. (Ovid, Metamorphoses 15.984-95, tr. Golding)
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.

References Edit

  1. Johnson, Samuel, Lives of the English Poets-Dryden, 1779 ISBN 0 460 01770 5
  2. Schmidt, Michael, Lives of the PoetsWeidenfeld & Nicholson,The Orion Publishing Group,1998

External linksEdit

  • Examples of Poulter's Measure of Thomas Wyatt and others [1]

See also Edit

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