ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How To Put Music In Your Poetry

Updated on November 14, 2011

How to Use Your Feet

In poetry, “feet” are units of rhythm that are used to construct what is called a “meter,” a term that has pretty much the same meaning in both poetry and music. It refers to the number of beats per group – in poetry this group would usually be a line, while in music the group of beats is called a measure.

I am not going to discuss the names of the feet here. There is a Wikipedia article that covers that topic very nicely. In this article I will simply discuss how to use rhythm to make your poetry flow better, musically.

Click here to hear an audio version of this poetry lesson.  

Let’s think about rhythm as variations in the beat. Rhythms like a simple waltz are consistent:

  • 1-2-3
  • 1-2-3
  • 1-2-3

.. or in a walking or dance beat …

  • 1-2-3-4
  • 1-2-3-4

Then you have the off-beats, as in rock ‘n’ roll:

  • 1-&-2-&-3-&-4-&

or a jazz waltz:

  • 1-2&3
  • 1-2&3

In addition to basic beats, beats can be accented. In rock music, there are four beats in a measure and the accents occur on beats two and four. In a march, there are four beats in each measure and the accents occur on beats one and tree. In phases or words with more than one syllable, some syllables are stressed and some are not. For example in the phrase, “What is it?,” the “is” is stressed. But in the word, “arithmetic”, the syllables “rith” and “tic” are stressed.

Putting Theory into Practice

The secret to making your poetry more musical is to control the beat of the stresses in each line, so that the rhythm creates a relationship between lines that is more musical than that of sentences in a paragraph. Actually you can transform almost any paragraph into poetry simply by working with the rhythm.

Let’s take a paragraph and use rhythm to make it more like poetry:

“I saw her in the cafeteria. She was with Jane and Joan so I decided not to sit with her, because of them. I don’t know why she always has to sit with them. She knows I don’t like those two. Either Jane or Joan is fine by themselves, but together I just can’t stand them.”

The first sentence has a rhythm like this:

Dah di di di di di di dah.

That’s an okay rhythm, so let’s make the second sentence fit in with it better:

I saw her in the cafeteria

She was with Jane so I didn’t sit with her

... and we can keep going...


I saw her in the cafeteria

She was with Jane so I didn’t sit with her

Joan was there, too


I don’t know why she always has to sit with them

When they’re together it’s something I can’t stand

I don’t like those two


More subtly done, there starts to be a subliminal sort of allure. The reader or listener knows there is something going on, but can’t quite hear a real pattern or beat. Still, there is a musicality present. Let’s start with a new idea:

We were on the subway when you told me you wanted to break up with me. There were no seats, so we stood, each holding on to the overhead bar, facing each other. The lights were bright and people were crowded all around us. You said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t to this anymore. I can’t do us anymore.” My guts did a slow roll. Suddenly the subway car jerked to a stop and you fell against me. I caught you in my arms. A tear of mine fell on your cheek.

Here we have some usable images, actions and emotions. Let’s stuff them into a poem using our new found music-in-poetry abilities:

On the subway
We stood
Facing each other
When you said,
“I can’t do this -
I can‘t do
Us
Anymore.”
My guts
Did a slow roll.

Suddenly
The subway
Jerked
To a stop:
You fell against me;
A tear of mine
Fell on your cheek.

Analyzing this rhythmically, we can feel a kind of broken three-beat rhythm to it - just a bit of a lilt that tells you this is a poem, not a paragraph. The three beat time signature is laid out strongly in the first line, “On the subway” and then has nothing to really contradict the feeling of three until “Jerked,” where the poem comes “To a stop.” Then we have the three-beat feeling continue through to the end.

We have parts that rhythmically echo other parts and others that do not, so the ‘music’ in the poetry is sophisticated. Sophisticated rhythm in a poem keeps the reader off balance, not knowing what to expect and ready to be surprised. Surprise is one of the things people like in poetry, that’s why you want to always try to include some in yours.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Tom Rubenoff profile imageAUTHOR

      Tom Rubenoff 

      6 years ago from United States

      Thank you, Ann!

    • profile image

      Ann 

      6 years ago

      This is a very good lesson. I will read it again. I would like to be able to combine words and music. Very, very good article! Thanks. :)

      http://ravensartshack.blogspot.com/2011/11/behind-...

    • Tom Rubenoff profile imageAUTHOR

      Tom Rubenoff 

      6 years ago from United States

      Thank you all so much. I think the main thing is to listen to one's poetry. Read it aloud. Hear how it flows or doesn't flow. Rhythm is just one of the tools you can use to write poetry that, as Anginwu said, sings. I love the idea of writing while music plays in the background, although I tend to get pulled away by music, so I usually write in silence. Thank you, Sestasik, Anginwu, Storyteller and Ruby. :)

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      6 years ago from Southern Illinois

      The idea of writing poetry to the rhythm of music is fascinating to me. I think i will try it when i get the urge to write..Thank you Tom..Cheers

    • Storytellersrus profile image

      Barbara 

      6 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Tom, I love this approach to writing poetry. I have heard that many poets write to music, which influences the rhythm of their work. Have you had this experience?

    • anglnwu profile image

      anglnwu 

      6 years ago

      I always wish I have this rhythm thing down. Thanks for showing how rhythm can transform a so-so poem to one that sings. Rated up.

    • profile image

      sestasik 

      6 years ago

      Great breakdown on these issues. Meter is something so many people struggle with when it comes to poetry.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile imageAUTHOR

      Tom Rubenoff 

      6 years ago from United States

      That's a great idea, Hound Cat. Thanks for sharing it with us. :)

    • Hound Cat profile image

      Hound Cat 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles area of Southern California USA

      I have used some songs to help me make my poetry flow better. Glad to read your hub recommending a musical approach.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile imageAUTHOR

      Tom Rubenoff 

      6 years ago from United States

      Thank you, Frieda! I like the idea of you, dancing. When I dance, my kids tell me to stop :)

    • Frieda Babbley profile image

      Frieda Babbley 

      6 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      I'm dancin', I'm dancin', I'm dancin' the yam. Great topic. I feel rhythm and a musical essence is so important in poetry. Lovely examples. A very fun read.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile imageAUTHOR

      Tom Rubenoff 

      6 years ago from United States

      Thank you. If I actually help somebody write poetry that is more rewarding to them - this is a wonderful thing. Thanks again!

    • mistifields profile image

      mistifields 

      6 years ago

      Thanks again. I'm an aspiring writer, trying to conquer poetry. I find your hubs very useful.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      6 years ago from California

      Great article about the issue of rhythm and flow! Loved it!

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)