Scanning Poetry

Directions: In the examples below, scan the lines to determine the meter. You can find a chart of metrical feet and the number of feet in each type of line on the back of this page. You can also try the scansion quiz.

1. The world is too much with us, late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers,
Little we see in nature that is ours,
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon.
--William Wordsworth, "The World is Too Much with Us"

2. Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore —
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“ ’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door —
Only this and nothing more.”
--Edgar Allan Poe, "The Raven"

3. That time of year thou mayest in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
--William Shakespeare
4. I would be wandering in distant fields
Where man, and bird, and beast, lives leisurely,
And the old earth is kind, and ever yields
Her goodly gifts to all her children free.
--Claude McKay, "In Bondage"

5. I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
Though what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from my heels up to my head,
And he jumps in bed before me when I jump into my bed.
--Robert Louis Stevenson, from A Child's Garden of Verses

6. ‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.
--Clement Clark Moore, “A Visit from St. Nicholas”

7. Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me
The Carriage held but just Ourselves--
And Immortality
--Emily Dickinson, "Because I could not stop for Death"

8. Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
--William Blake, “The Tyger”

On Prosody: Tips for Scanning Poetry

Types of Feet

Number of Feet in This Type of Line

˘ /     = da DA = iamb (iambic)

/ ˇ     = DA da = trochee (trochaic)

˘ ˘ /   = da da DA = anapest (anapestic)

/ ˘ ˘   = DA da da = dactyl  (dactylic)

Two kinds of feet used to fill out lines:

/ /     = DA DA = spondee (two stressed syllables)

˘ ˘     = da da = pyrrhic foot (two unstressed syllables)

Dimeter = two feet

Trimeter = three feet

Tetrameter = four feet

Pentameter = five feet

Hexameter = six feet

Heptameter or the septenary = seven feet

Octameter = eight feet

1. Read the poem aloud. As you read, listen for a natural emphasis in the rhythm of the line. The syllables you emphasize will be those that you'll mark with a / (indicating a stressed syllable).

2. As you read the poem aloud, try tapping your foot or pounding your hand on a desk when you hear the accented syllables. This will help you to hear the rhythm.
If you can't hear the rhythm, try reading the words into a tape recorder and listening to them. You can also try reading the lines to someone and asking that person to mark the stressed syllables, or, conversely, ask someone to read the poem and mark the lines as you listen to them.

3. Read more than one line. Sometimes the first line of a poem may have spondees or other types of feet that will throw off your reading. Remember, you are looking for the predominant metrical pattern of the piece.

4. Mark the stressed syllables first, and then go back and mark the unstressed syllables. The mark for these is a breve, which looks like a sideways parenthesis mark ˘ or shallow "u."

5. If you are not sure which syllables should be stressed, look for two- and three-syllable words in a line and pronounce them as you would normally pronounce them. These will help you to determine the stressed syllables in a line. For example, you'd say a-BOVE, not A-bove, MURmuring, not murMURing or murmurING.

6. Try typing out the lines and breaking the words into syllables so that you can see them individually instead of as part of a word.

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day
The cur few tolls the knell of part ing day
This will make the process of finding the stressed syllables easier.

7. Once you have marked the lines for stressed and unstressed syllables, divide the lines according to the kinds of feet. (Use a larger / slash mark or circle the feet.):
            Iambic: unstressed STRESSED (sounds like da-DUM: aBOVE, beLOW)
            Trochaic: STRESSED unstressed (sounds like DA-dum: CAREless CHILDren)
            Anapestic: unstressed unstressed STRESSED (galloping meter; sounds like da-da-DUM: by reQUEST )
            Dactylic: STRESSED unstressed unstressed (DA-dum-dum: MUR-mur-ing A-li-en)