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I. Rhyme and Rhyme-Related Figures

I.1. Rhyme

1. The definition of rhyme

2. The basic types of rhyme: masculine and feminine

3. The position and function of rhyme


I.2. Assonance


I.3. Consonance


I.4. Alliteration


I.5. Eye-rhyme

I.6. Enjambment

I.7. Rhyme-schemes, stanza patterns

1. Rhyme-schemes

2. Stanza patterns

3. The function of rhyme schemes and stanza patterns


II. Verse, Versification

II.1. Accentual Syllabic Verse (Metre, Metrics)

1. The definition of metre and of accentual syllabic verse

2. Feet and lines in accentual syllabic verse

3. A few hints on scansion

4. The function of metrics, the use of scansion


II.2. Combinations of accentual syllabic verse and rhyme patterns


II.3. Accentual verse


II.4. Free verse

III. Poetic Forms and Genres

IV. Exercises

V. Links

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
A Psalm of Life
What the Heart of the Young Man Said to
the Psalmist

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
   Life is but an empty dream! —
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
   And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
   And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
   Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
   Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
   Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
   And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
   Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world's broad field of battle,
   In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
   Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
   Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,—act in the living Present!
   Heart within, and God o'erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
   We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
   Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
   Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
   Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
   With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
   Learn to labor and to wait.

The opening stanza of Longfellow’s poem starts with a strong trochaic rhythm and this rhythm is kept up all through the rest of the text. The function of the trochees is also immediately explained. The trochaic rhythm is contrasted to the ‘mournful numbers’ (numbers = ‘metre’) of the usual sad, melancholic type of poetry. By the help of the numbers – slumbers rhyme, this type of poetry is associated with monotony, with a passive attitude, with the slumbering of the soul. Instead of this attitude the speaker recommends a more active one, which is also represented by the powerful and energetic trochees.
This theme, as well as the trochaic rhythm, is so strongly established in the first two lines of the poem that the confusion that emerges in the metrical arrangement of the last two lines of the stanza comes as a surprise. The first two lines are unambiguously trochaic:

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream! —

In the third we might have some doubt whether the first foot should be construed as a trochee or as an anapaest. The latter would sound more natural but we certainly do not have to force the natural accent of the language too much to interpret the first foot as a trochee:

For the soul is dead that slumbers,

When it comes to the last line of the stanza, however, this system seems to break down completely. The natural rhythm of the line goes so much against the abstract pattern that it would be a mistake to impose a trochaic pattern on this obviously iambic/anapaestic line:

And things are not what they seem.

What we can do in such a case is try to find out why this change occurs and why it occurs just here. And indeed here we do not have to look very far for an explanation: the meaning of the very line in which the change occurs explains it. The change in the rhythm can be seen as demonstrating what the line says: things are not what they seem.