Poetry Writing 101: The Fourteener and Iambic Heptameter

Note: Below you will find an exercise and an explanation on iambic heptameter. You will see three different versions of the same poem, with changes highlighted – enjoy:) This warning was suggested by a fellow poet on facebook

I want to preface this with the fact that I may have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about 🙂 Always do your own research (that’s why I supply hyperlinks!)

Here’s an exercise in creating some traditional(ish) forms of poetry 🙂 It started with me writing a quick poem in response to another poem I read. Now, this poem was not meant to be blogged or advertised or anything. I posted on my Facebook page but I didn’t plan on adding it here. It was just a quickie 😉

I wrote it in rhyming quatrains without really thinking about it. This is not unusual as I tend to automatically fall to quatrains a lot when I’m just writing. I suspect it comes from me writing a lot of lyrics, specifically rap lyrics which I tend to think of in terms of quatrains (16 bars, with 1 bar being a line, is 4 quatrains for me).

What I’m trying to say is, this was something of a “throw-away” poem for me. However, I found myself wanting to share something of the poetry writing process with my audience (such as it is). Especially those of you that asked me how I write or what my process is. Well, this is not specifically MY process, but it is A process that you can use to come up with more traditional (English) forms of poetry.

So here’s the poem (I even recorded it, which you can hear in this post) – I recorded it as is so what you’ll hear is the original, unedited version. I may re-record the final version

The king in all his wisdom saw that something was amiss

The priest, forever pious, saw that something did not fit

And both saw a solution that they knew did not exist

Genocide of mind created so that they could get their wish

 

Well the king he knew the way he simply told them what to do

And they did it; he was pleased but felt that something was not true

Do they do it off his word or is it just what people do?

Are they slaves by birth or slaves because he wants it to be true?

 

To test the thought he gave some extra freedoms to one man

And saw the others did not like it, they couldn’t comprehend

How one man (‘cept the king of course) could be allowed to stand

Above the others, who was he that they should have to bend

 

They ridiculed him, cast him down and made of him a fool

The king was highly pleased at this and saw it as a tool

As long as scapegoats kept them riled they cared not that he ruled

Therefore, his rule was absolute; fair, unfair or cruel

 

The priest, he witnessed all of this and had a great idea

He saw that people were like sheep; in his mind it became clear

He would supplant the king and plant within them all a new idea

Once he had their minds and souls, their vision he would then make clear

 

For if they see what he believes (or at least what he claims to see)

They will see a promise greater than themselves, they will be free

“For you see, the king has made you slaves and I shall make you free.

But in order to be free you must believe and pay the fee.

 

And of course, that freedom is promised, when at last you lay to rest

Give money to the church and turn the cheek when you’re beset.

So…technically, you’re still a slave but when you die, you will be blessed!

So obey the king, but give to me…I mean give to God’s request!”

 

The king in all his wisdom saw that something was amiss

The priest, forever pious, saw that something did not fit

And both saw a solution that they knew did not exist

Genocide of mind created so that they could get their wish

Fourteener

A Fourteener in Iambic Heptameter

Now, there’s a few things you’ll notice, or should notice right off. My first stanza contains 3 fourteeners. A fourteener is a 14 syllable line, so, if I wanted to go about making this more traditional in order for it to flow more smoothly, I have something I can work with. You may have also noticed that I used a repeating rhyme to introduce the king and then again to introduce the priest. (You may also note I used “free” twice back to back…like I said, this poem wasn’t for the mainstream :))

So, let’s see if we can transform this poem into ALL fourteeners. In order to do this, we may have to change some lines up but still keep the overall meaning. Could be challenging. I’ll be right back with the results 🙂

Before I post it, I want you to note that a good chunk of this poem is already naturally written as a fourteener. This was NOT by design, it’s just how it came out. That’s how a lot of writing is, especially when employing any sort of rhythm. So, if you’re new to this, don’t beat yourself up trying to create a specific meter, just write and see what you get. You can make a better decision from there.

The king in all his wisdom saw that something was amiss

The priest, forever pious, saw that something did not fit

And both saw a solution that they knew did not exist

Create a genocide of minds so they could get their wish

 

The king he knew the way he simply told them what to do

They did it; he was pleased but felt that something was not true

Do they do it off his word? Is it just what people do?

Are they born slaves or slaves because he wants it to be true?

 

To test the thought he gave some extra freedoms to one man

The others did not like it, they just could not comprehend

How one man (‘cept the king of course) could be allowed to stand

Above the others, who was he that they should have to bend

 

They ridiculed him, cast him down and made of him a fool

The king was highly pleased at this and saw it as a tool

As long as scapegoats kept them riled they cared not that he ruled

So his rule was absolute, whether fair, unfair or cruel

 

The priest, he witnessed all of this and had a great idea

He saw people were like sheep; in his mind it became clear

Supplant the king and plant within them all a new idea

Once he had their minds and souls, their vision he would make clear

 

If they can see what he believes (or what he claims to see)

They’ll see a promise greater than themselves, they will be free

“For you see, the king has made you slaves, I shall make you free.

In order to be free you must believe and pay the fee.

 

Of course, that freedom is promised, when last you lay to rest

Give money to the church and turn the cheek when you’re beset.

Technically, you’re still a slave but when you die, you’ll be blessed!

Obey the king, but give to me! I mean, to God’s request!”

 

The king in all his wisdom saw that something was amiss

The priest, forever pious, saw that something did not fit

And both saw a solution that they knew did not exist

Create a genocide of minds so they could get their wish

 

Okay, so now we got it formatted. Each line is 14 syllables long. You’ll notice that this made it flow smoother in some places, but made it really awkward in others. The reason for this is because I payed attention to syllable count but not meter.

Fourteener’s do no necessarily have to be written how I have it here. It’s possible to break the lines as long as they equal up to 14 syllables. In fact, most fourteener’s that I’ve seen are written in couplets and not quatrains like these.

They can also be broken further down, as long as they contain 7 feet and 14 syllables, which brings us to:

Iambic Heptameter

This Line is an Example of iambic heptameter

So, we’re going to try to tighten this poem up further by attempting to restrict it to iambic heptameter. What was that you ask? What IS iambic heptameter?

Iambic heptameter is a meter expressed in 7 feet. A foot is a small measurement of meter, usually in syllables. For instance, an iamb is a two-syllable metrical foot. An iamb consists of an unstressed syllable fol

lowed by a stressed one or a short syllable followed by a long one. Think of it as “da-DUM” – that’s one iamb.

Heptameter is just a word that means a meter of 7 iambs. So, 7 iambs give ya 14 syllables…get it?

There are other types of feet as well, so you don’t have to stick to just iambs, you can mix and match em with others…as long as you know what you’re doing. Let’s get into some examples with this piece.

“The king in all his wisdom saw that something was amiss” – this line is perfect. It flows correctly in iambic heptameter. 14 syllables, 7 iambs – well, maybe not perfect. Depends on how you read it.

But this is how we want ALL of the lines to be.

Oh, one more thing. Did you notice the strikeout I put on the word “and” in the third line? It’s because that word does not have to be there to keep the meter straight. A space of time can be the same as a syllable. Understand?

So, let’s see if we can tame this poem into iambic heptameter.

No, I’m not going to go through this word for word. Instead, I’m going to read it out loud. Wherever I stumble or become unsure of how I should say it, is a place where the meter is screwed. You can also try to read it with a metronome, that can be a great help as well.

Something you should remember though – not all strict meter is always good. You don’t have to constrict your verse for the sake of meter. Many great poets break meter regularly to keep the flow tight. Or to make a specific sort of statement.

For instance, I was okay with how this poem originally sounded when I read it out loud…more or less. By tying it up with meter, I’m less satisfied. Meter can force you to sound almost robotic when it’s not mixed up a bit now and then. Also, a fourteener does NOT have to be in heptameter. They traditionally are, but it’s up to your own discretion.

The king in all his wisdom saw that something was amiss

The priest, forever pious, saw that something did not fit

And both saw a solution that they knew did not exist

Create a genocide of minds so they could get their wish

 

The king he knew the way he simply told them what to do

They did it, he was pleased but felt that something was not true

Do they just obey his words? Was it just what people do?

Are they born slaves or slaves because he wants it to be true?

 

To test the thought he gave some extra freedoms to one man

The others did not like it, they just could not comprehend

How one man (‘cept the king of course) could be allowed to stand

Above the others, who was he that they should have to bend

 

They ridiculed him, cast him down and made of him a fool

The king was highly pleased at this and saw it as a tool

As long as scapegoats kept them riled they cared not that he ruled

So his rule was absolute, fair or foul, unfair or cruel

 

The priest, he witnessed all of this and had a great idea

The people were like unto sheep, his purpose became clear

Supplant the king and plant within them all a new idea

Once he owns their minds and souls, it’s their vision he’d make clear

 

If they can see what he believes (or what he claims to see)

They’ll see a promise greater than themselves, these devotees

“For you see, the king has made you slaves, I shall make you free.

In order to be free you must believe and pay the fee.

 

Of course that promised freedom, comes along with final rest

Give money to the church and turn the cheek when you’re beset.

Technically, you’re still a slave, when you die, you’ll all be blessed!

Obey the king, but give to me! I mean, to God’s request!”

 

The king in all his wisdom saw that something was amiss

The priest, forever pious, saw that something did not fit

And both saw a solution that they knew did not exist

Create a genocide of minds so they could get their wish

 

Well, that’s that. Now, there’s a bunch of different things I could have done to mix it up and make it fresh. I could have broken the rules of meter, or I could have used something other than iambic heptameter. I could have used alternating 12 and 14 syllable couplets or something. There are an infinite amount of possibilities.

In fact, a more traditional way of breaking up a fourteener in iambic heptameter is to split it between two lines, typically 4 iambs on one and 3 on the other:

The king in all his wisdom saw

That something was amiss

 

The priest forever pious saw

That something did not fit

But that would have created an overly long poem for me. However, if I were to take the next step in constricting this poem even further, I would go about breaking it down into this 4/3 iamb structure…but this post has gone on long enough 🙂

Even as it is, I’m not sure if I did exactly what I was trying to do. Maybe somebody who studies these things will chime in and let me know where I erred 🙂 This was actually my very, very first time (outside of writing a sonnet in high school) that I intentionally tried to dissect my writing and make it more traditional with a specific meter…how did I do?

I notice, the more practiced

make it seem so fluid smooth

I’ll try to practice up until

I too can do that too :))

 

For further application, you can also use these tools in writing other things as well. Apply it to lyrics if you’re looking for a specific sort of cadence (especially devastating when applied to head nodding beats) – you can use it in your prose of fiction when you want to convey a specific feeling, although, it probably won’t be rhymed (it’s called blank verse, play with it) – and I’m not talking specifically about heptameter, experiment with other forms of meter and different feet. As I do the same, I’ll add posts similar to this one 🙂

Some further reading? Be sure to check the hyperlinks in the post itself, most are from Wikipedia of course.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meter_%28poetry%29

 

 

I love this chick Frankie (@idowhatilike) – she has a blog where pretty much every post is written in iambic heptameter, admittedly, it hasn’t been updated in a while, but you should check it out if this particular meter interests you (I did, while writing this post, it’s good stuff) – http://thingsihaveloved.wordpress.com/

Here’s a forum thread I found where they do a communal iambic heptameter thing. It’s probably the best for seeing how different people use it. Some of them are real witty. http://www.zefrank.com/bulletin_new/showthread.php?s=034cb1cfea5885c17b514aaa4d6ff79a&t=6984

 

http://www.fifteenminutesoffiction.com/articles/poetry/iambic_heptameter.asp

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