Metrical feet
˘ ˘ pyrrhus, dibrach
˘ ¯ iamb
¯ ˘ trochee, choree
¯ ¯ spondee
˘ ˘ ˘ tribrach
¯ ˘ ˘ dactyl
˘ ¯ ˘ amphibrach
˘ ˘ ¯ anapest, antidactylus
˘ ¯ ¯ bacchius
¯ ¯ ˘ antibacchius
¯ ˘ ¯ cretic, amphimacer
¯ ¯ ¯ molossus
Number of feet per line
one Monometer
two Dimeter
three Trimeter
four Tetrameter
five Pentameter
six Hexameter
seven Heptameter
eight Octameter
See main article for tetrasyllables.
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Poulter's measure is a meter consisting of alternate alexandrines combined with fourteeners, to form a poem of alternating 12- and 14-syllable lines.


It was often used in the Elizabethan era. The term was coined by George Gascoigne, because poulters, or poulterers (sellers of poultry), would sometimes give 12 to the dozen, and other times 14 (see also Baker's dozen).[1] When the poulter's measure couplet is divided at its caesurae, it becomes a short measure stanza, a quatrain of 3, 3, 4, and 3 feet.

In the early 17th century, George Chapman famously used the form when he produced one of the first English translations of Homer's Iliad. Two centuries later, in his "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer," John Keats expressed his appreciation for what he called the "loud and bold" quality of Chapman's translation, which he implicitly contrasted with the more prestigious but more tightly controlled heroic couplets of Alexander Pope's 18th-century translation, thereby using one type of fourteener (a sonnet) to comment on the other (iambic heptameter).

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]

Emily Dickinson used a variant of poulter's measure, with each verse broken into two lines – two lines of short meter followed by two of common meter – in some of her poems, such as "A Light Exists in Spring".


Good ladies, ye that have your pleasure in exile
Step in your foot, come take a place, and mourn with me awhile,
And such as by their lord do set but little price
Let them sit still, it skills them not what chance come on the dice.
  • Emily Dickinson used quatrains with lines of 3,3,4,4 syllables:

      A Light exists in Spring
      Not present on the Year
      At any other period –
     When March is scarcely here

     The Winters are so short –
     I'm hardly justified
     In sending all the Birds away –
     And moving into Pod –

References Edit

  1. Attridge, Derrick. The Rhythms of English Poetry. p.93. Longman: New York
  2. Schmidt, Michael, Lives of the PoetsWeidenfeld & Nicholson,The Orion Publishing Group,1998

External linksEdit

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