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Poetry Guide: Sprung Rhythm

Sprung rhythm is a poetic rhythm designed to imitate the rhythm of natural speech. It is constructed from feet in which the first syllable is stressed and may be followed by a variable number of unstressed syllables. The British poet Gerard Manley Hopkins claimed to have discovered this previously-unnamed poetic rhythm in the natural patterns of English in folk songs, spoken poetry, Shakespeare, Milton, et al. He used diacritical marks on syllables to indicate which should be drawn out (acute e.g. á ) and which uttered quickly (grave e.g. è ). Some critics believe he merely coined a name for poems with mixed, irregular feet, like free verse. However, while sprung rhythm allows for an indeterminate number of syllables to a foot, Hopkins was very careful to keep the number of feet he had per line consistent across each individual work, a trait that free verse does not share.


Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brindled cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spáre, strange;
Whatever is fickle, frecklèd (who knows how?)
With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change:
Práise hím.

—Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

Proposed Scansion:

|Glory|be to|God for|dappled|things—
For|skies of|couple-|colour as a|brindled|cow;
For|rose-moles|all in|stipple upon|trout that|swim;
|Landscape|plotted and|pieced—fold,|fallow, and|plough;
And|áll|trades, their|gear and|tackle and|trim.

|All things|counter, o|riginal,|spáre,|strange;
What|ever is|fickle,|frecklèd|(who knows|how?)
With|swíft,|slów; sweet,|sóur; a|dázzle,|dím;
He|fathers-|forth whose|beauty is|pást|change: