Poetry Kaleidoscope: Guide to Poetry

Syllabic Verse

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Syllabic verse is a poetic form having a fixed number of syllables per line or stanza regardless of the number of stresses that are present. It is common in languages that are syllable timed such as Japanese or modern French or Spanish, as opposed to accentual verse, which is common in stress timed languages such as English.

The following two stanzas from "No Swan So Fine" by Marianne Moore are an example of syllabic verse in English.

 No water so still as the
    dead fountains of Versailles." No swan,
with swart blind look askance
and gondoliering legs, so fine
    as the chintz china one with fawn-
brown eyes and toothed gold
collar on to show whose bird it was.
Lodged in the Louis Fifteenth
    Candelabrum-tree of cockscomb-
tinted buttons, dahlias,
sea urchins, and everlastings,
    it perches on the branching foam
of polished sculptured
flowers--at ease and tall. The king is dead.
 My raptured song shall ever be, 
 God has been merciful to me.

A number of English-language poets in the Modernist tradition experimented with syllabic verse. These include Marianne Moore, Dylan Thomas, Louis Zukofsky, Cid Corman, and Leo Yankevich. When writing syllabic verse, there is some flexibility in how one counts syllabes. For example, diphthongs may count as one or two syllables depending on the poet's preference.

See also

  • Tanaga - a Tagalog syllabic verse form of four lines of seven syllables

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