Meter refers to the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in the lines of a poem. Analyzing the meter of the poem establishes how many feet, or beats, are in the lines.
u \ u \ u \ u \ u \
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
U \ u \ u \ u \ u \
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
These lines are an example of iambic pentameter. This is a meter where there is an alternating pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables, and there are 5 feet, or beats, in the line.
Not all meter is as regular as this. Here is a different example Lewis Carroll's "The Hunting of the Snark."
U \ u u \ u u \ u u \
The crew was complete: it included a Boots-
U \ u u \ u u \
These lines start with an iamb, which is the unstressed stressed pattern. But, they also include another meter called anapest, which has two unaccented syllables followed by an accented syllable.
Examples of Meter in Literature:
There are several types of meter. These are some of the more common, in addition to anapest above, with an example of each.
Iambs-Unstressed followed by stressed syllables.
From Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening":
U \ u \ u \ u \ u \ u \ u \ u \
He will not see me stopping here / to watch his woods fill up with snow.
Trochee-Stressed followed by unstressed syllables.
From Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven":
\ u \ u \ u \ u \ u \ u \ u \ u
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary.
Literary Terms Examples