by Edgar Allan Poe
Analysis: Form and Meter
Regular Rhyme, (Mostly) Anapestic Meter
Let's start with the rhyme. Poe likes to play around with his poetic techniques, so nothing ever stays quite the same from stanza to stanza. Still, he's working off a basic pattern. Let's see how that works in the second stanza. We put rhyming words in bold. Rhyming sounds are marked with letters at the end of the line, so lines that rhyme with each other share the same letter:
Here once, through an alley Titanic, (A)
Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul— (B)
Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul. (B)
These were days when my heart was volcanic (A)
As the scoriac rivers that roll— (B)
As the lavas that restlessly roll (B)
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek (A)
In the ultimate climes of the pole— (B)
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek (A)
In the realms of the boreal pole. (B)
In all those lines, there are only two rhyming sounds! So if we write out the rhyme pattern, it's ABBABBABAB. This is more or less the pattern for the rest of the poem. Sometimes the stanzas are longer or shorter, and Poe will take out or add in rhyme to mix up the order above, but it's always all about the alternation and repetition of two sounds.
The meter is a little slippery too, since there isn't always a regular pattern from line to line. Once we show you the basic building blocks, though, it'll be easy for you to pick out Poe's meter in any of the lines.
For the most part, Poe mixes two kinds of meter. The first is called iambic. That's an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one. Look at the first two words of the poem. Better yet, read them aloud and see where the emphasis falls: "The skies." Hear that? Da-DUM. That's an iamb.
The other kind of meter is called anapestic. That's a big word for a pretty simple idea. An anapest is just two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable. Read those next three words in the first line: "they were ash|en." Can you hear how the first three syllables go da-da-DUM? That "en" at the end of ashen is part of the next anapest. Here, we'll show you how it looks all together, in the first two lines. We put slashes between the chunks of the meter and put stressed syllables in bold:
The skies | they were ash|en and so|ber;
(Iamb) (Anapest) (Anapest) (Extra Beat)
The leaves | they were crisp|èd and sere—
(Iamb) (Anapest) (Anapest)
See how that works? One more thing: a lot of the lines in this poem are like the first line, with an extra beat hanging off the end. That's called catalexis, if anyone is looking for extra credit.