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by Edgar Allan Poe

Analysis: Form and Meter

Rhyming Couplets in Trochaic Tetrameter

Let's deal with the rhyme scheme first, because it's pretty simple (well, mostly…). The basic idea here is that the lines of this poem make little rhymed pairs. The first line rhymes with the second one, the third one rhymes with the fourth, and so on. Every two lines, the rhyming sound at the end of the line changes. English teachers call this a rhyming couplet, and it's a really old technique. For example, the last two lines of Shakespeare's sonnets always rhyme like this. Here, we'll show you how it works, using letters to mark the rhymes:

By a route obscure and lonely, A
Haunted by ill angels only, A
Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT, B
On a black throne reigns upright, B
I have reached these lands butnewly, C
From an ultimate dim Thule [pronounced thoo-lee]— C

See that? Six lines, three pairs of rhymes: lonely/only, night/upright, newly/Thule. The whole poem is set up like that. Well, almost the whole poem. (You knew there was a catch here, didn't you?) Part of the fun of setting up a pattern like this is that then you get to play with it. Check out the first lines in the second stanza:

Bottomless vales and boundless floods,
And chasms, and caves, and Titan woods,

"Floods" and "woods" look like they would rhyme, but they sure don't when you say them out loud. The fancy term for that is a near rhyme, because it gets close, but doesn't quite rhyme. We think it adds to the slightly weird, disorienting effect that Poe is aiming for in this poem.

The meter of the poem switches around a little bit, but, for the most part, it follows a pattern called trochaic tetrameter (don't worry, we'll break it down for you). What tetrameter means is that there are four pairs ("tetra" = 4) of syllables in every line. Here's an example in which we've divided up the pairs of syllables:

By a | route ob|scure and | lonely,

If you count it up, that means eight syllables per line. Sometimes there's one or two more or less, since Poe like to be tricky like that, but you see the basic idea, right? Trochaic means that, in each of those pairs of syllables, the emphasis falls on the first syllable. We'll show you how that works by putting the stressed syllables in bold and italics:

By a | route ob|scure and | lonely,

Hear the rhythm there? DUM-da DUM-da DUM-da DUM-da. Voila, trochaic tetrameter. That's all there is to it. Like we said, you can find tons of spots where Poe breaks this pattern, but we think it really helps to have a sense of the basic structure.