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Writing Poetry with Musical Influences

Updated on March 6, 2008

Writing poetry isn’t only about stringing words together to create images, but also to use prosody to incorporate both intonation and rhythm into your poems. If you use hymnals and other short, catchy songs as a basis of learning about rhythm, you will be able to translate this into your poetry.

You have been learning about prosody your entire life, even if you didn’t know it. I bet, as a child you sang Mother Goose nursery rhymes:

Hynx, Mynx, the old witch stinks!

The fat begins to fry.

There’s no one home but jumpin’ Joan

And father and mother and I.

If you score this, it looks like:

/ / _/ / /

_/ _/ _/

_/ _/ _/ _/

_/ _ _/ _ _/

_ is an unstressed syllable, while / is a stressed syllable.

Look at the rhyme again:

HYNX, MYNX, the OLD WITCH STINKS!

The FAT begins to FRY.

There’s NO one HOME but JUMPin’ JOAN

And Father and Mother and I.

Let’s look at how to score another common childhood song. You will find that these songs won’t work if you don’t put the proper stress on the right syllables.

CINderELLa DRESSED in YELLa

WENT upstairs and KISSED a FELLa

That regular rhythm is very important because the stressed syllables mark when you jump rope. These song lines can be scanned as:

/ _ _/ _ _/ _ _/ _ _

/ _ _/ _ _/ _ _/ _ _

Now, let’s look at the next two lines of this popular jump rope song:

MADE a mis TAKE and KISSED a SNAKE

HOW many DOCtors DID it TAKE.

You have to slur the second and third syllables of each line to keep the rhythm. Go back and sing it again to make sure you hear the stressed and unstressed syllables.

You will find the most common measure used in English language poetry is the iambic pentameter. In fact, Shakespeare wrote in iambic pentameter. The iamb is the foot, and marked _ _/ (an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable).

An iambic pentameter line contains five feet of five or ten syllables.

_ _/ _ _/ _ _/ _ _/ _ _/

Applying This to Poetry

Once you understand the effect combining stressed and unstressed syllables can have in the rhythm of your poetry, you will be able to write more effectively. This allows you the freedom to create rhythm without having to rely on cheesy rhymes.

Let’s look at a stanza from William Wordsworth’s poem, “A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal.”

A slumber did my spirit seal;

I had no human fears;

She seemed a thing that could not feel

The touch of earthly years.

--

This is considered the “hymnal” or ballad measure. The next time you attend a church service, listen to the stress used while hymnals are sung, and you will recognize where this measure gets its name.

When you can the hymnal, it looks like:

_/ _/ _/ _/

_/ _/ _/

_/ _/ _/ _/

_/ _/ _/

Can you create a poem following these measures? Practice by looking at publish poetry, and mark the stresses. You will be amazed at how often you find it in popular poetry. You will also notice patterns that mark different kinds of measures.

Practice by trying to write your own poetry. Share what you come up with in the comment box below.

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