Study Guide

A Birthday Form and Meter

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Form and Meter

Harmonious Iambs and Rhymes

The speaker of "A Birthday" is feeling good—really good. It's no surprise, then, that her inner harmony is reflected in the way this poem is put together. It's got both a regular meter and a rhyme scheme that you can set your watch to. But don't just take our word for it. Let us explain:

We'll start with the poem's rhythm: iambic tetrameter. Now, don't let the fancy-shmancy term fool you. It's actually pretty simple. Basically, every line in the poem has four iambs (tetra- meaning four). And an iamb is just a two-syllable pair in which the first syllable is unstressed, but the second one is stressed. It makes a beat like "daDUM." Take a listen:

My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;

If you heard those lines out loud, you'd hear four iambs in each line: daDUM, daDUM, daDUM, daDUM. It's a pattern that holds up—more or less—throughout the poem. There may be a line that's off by an extra syllable (we're looking at you, line 11), but part of that comes down to how you want to pronounce a word like "pomegranates" (pom-uh-gran-its or pom-uh-grants?). The overall meter here, though, is one of uniform regularity, emphasizing the orderly peace that the speaker's experiencing on the inside.

The poem's rhyme scheme is no different. Every other line contains an end rhyme, which makes for a rhyme scheme of ABCBDEFE (with each letter representing an end rhyme) in each stanza:

Raise me a dais of silk and down; A
Hang it with vair and purple dyes; B
Carve it in doves and pomegranates, C
And peacocks with a hundred eyes; B
Work it in gold and silver grapes, D
In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life F
Is come, my love is come to me.
(9-16) E

Does this sound peaceful and harmonious to you? It should, because that's the just the kind of vibe that the speaker's experiencing her when discussing her beloved. It's a good time all around, and the form and meter totally reflect that.

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