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Analysis

Iambic Pentameter and Tetrameter in Rhymed Couplets… Sort of

It's always time for a constipation joke, Shmoopers (poopers?): this poem ain't regular. No, seriously, buy this poem a five-stanza prune juice because its meter is all over the place. Each stanza starts out with the usual suspects, a couplet of iambic pentameter lines:

Get up, get up for shame, the blooming morn
Upon her wings presents the god unshorn. (1-2)

See how these lines have five pairs of non-stressed and stressed syllables? That's some straight up iambic pentameter, folks. And see how they rhyme? What a perfect couplet.

In fact the whole poem is composed of couplets. But the iambic pentameter flickers in and out like a candle. After the first two lines of each stanza, we get four lines of iambic tetrameter (that's four pairs of non-stressed and stressed syllables), followed by two more lines of iambic pentameter, followed by four lines of iambic tetrameter, followed by two final lines of iambic pentameter with a twist.

Gettin' Irregular

With a twist? Yep. Regular iambic pentameter ends on a stressed syllable:

Besides, the childhood of the day has kept (21)

Hear how the stress slams down on that final "kept"? Well, here's where the twist comes in. In the final lines of each stanza, Herrick tacks on an extra unstressed syllable to each line. This so-called "weak" ending is known as a feminine ending. Misogynistic much? Blame the prosodists. In "Corinna's Going A-Maying," this means that the two ending lines of each stanza actually have 11 syllables each, with five pairs of unstressed and stressed syllables:

Many a jest told of the keys betraying (55)

What's more, the 11th syllable is always that little –ing, since every stanza's final word is "a-Maying" and the line above (the one that forms the couplet) has to rhyme. To recap, here's a look at each stanza's meter pattern:

• Iambic pentameter
• Iambic pentameter
• Iambic tetrameter
• Iambic tetrameter
• Iambic tetrameter
• Iambic tetrameter
• Iambic pentameter
• Iambic pentameter
• Iambic tetrameter
• Iambic tetrameter
• Iambic tetrameter
• Iambic tetrameter
• Iambic pentameter + feminine ending
• Iambic pentameter + feminine ending

So what's the point of all this irregularity? For one thing, it keeps the poem feeling sprightly and playful. With lines dropping and adding syllables every minute, these stanzas are anything but slug-a-beds. Hear that, Corinna? Heed the stanzas and get moving.

Enjambment

Another form-and-meter trick that keeps things lively is enjambment. This occurs when a sentence wraps around into the next line without a punctuation mark, like a comma, semi-colon, or period. See what Herrick does with this in the final stanza:

And, as a vapour or a drop of rain
Once lost, can ne'er be found again (63-64)

Reading along line 63 we get to "drop of rain" and realize that this sentence isn't over. There's no verb to tell us what is happening to this drop of rain, there's no punctuation to lean on while we gather our thoughts. Concerned, interested, hopeful, we read right through to line 64 and find to our horror that this raindrop, once lost, can never be found again. Alack and woe!

Even if you're not that moved by this raindrop's fate, you can see how a trick like enjambment keeps the poetry moving. With no punctuation to pause you, you hurry into the next line to see where this sentence is going. And when the point of the poem is to get someone the heck out of bed, you can see why a quickly moving poem is essential.

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