Analysis: Form and Meter
For the most part, Ballad Stanza
Dickinson's poems are often described as "hymn-like," which is actually a pretty good way of thinking about her sing-songy, musical verse; they're best read aloud to make sure you really feel the consistent beat. This steady rhythm comes from the iambic meter that Dickinson employs. An "iamb" is a two-syllable metrical unit, or "foot" made up of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. An iamb makes the sound da-DUM. For example, the word "itself" is a good sample iamb – say it out loud to yourself (another iamb! Goodness gracious, they're everywhere.) right now: it-self. See what we mean?
Let's take a couple of Dickinson's lines out for a spin next:
I like to see it lap the Miles—
and lick the Valleys up—
Try really hitting those bold, italicized (stressed) syllables hard – can you feel it? The undulating rhythm of these iambic lines is what lends them their air of musicality.
You probably noticed that the first line has four stresses (like, see, lap, Miles), while the second has only three (lick, Val-, up). This pattern of iambic tetrameter (that is, four-iamb meter) and iambic trimeter (three-iamb meter) is known as ballad meter – as in, the meter most commonly used in folk ballads. Two sets of these alternating lines – a total of four lines, or one quatrain – is called ballad stanza. Dickinson's poem follows the classic rhyme scheme for ballads, ABCB.
Want to know more about Dickinson's rhyme, particularly her slant rhyme? Check out "Calling Card."