Study Guide

A Dialogue between the Soul and the Body Form and Meter

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Form and Meter

Iambic Tetrameter Couplets

If you've read much classic poetry at all, then you should know the drill. If a line sounds like "daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM… whenWill itStop," it's made up of iambs. These guys are sets of two syllables with the first one unstressed and the second one stressed. Care for an e.g? (Stressed syllables are bolded):

O who shall, from this dungeon, raise (1)

We know it's tough, but if you tally these iamb pairs up super-carefully you'll get (drumroll, please)… four of 'em. That makes this line iambic tetrameter, with "tetra-" meaning "four." Since Marvell's a regular kinda guy, each line follows—pretty much—the same pattern.

We do get some telling exceptions though. Check this out:

Tortur'd, besides each other part,
In a vain head, and doub le heart
. (9-10)

The last three beats (or feet) of these lines are iambic still, but check out the first two beats of both lines with the words "Tortur'd" and "In a." Instead of daDUM, you should hear DUMda. Those aren't iambs then, but the reverse, which is a called a trochee. So why the change? This comes at the end of the Soul's first statement in the poem, and we think Marvel changes the rhythmic gears up here to really drive those final points home. The Soul is "Tortur'd," tortured we tell you! The poem flips the beat script to subtly underscore that point.

How about rhyme you ask? That's easy-peasy: AABBCCDDEE (annnnnd we could keep going if you're really interested). In other words, this poem is written in rhymed couplets (the letters stand for the matching end rhymes). Or, in plain English, the lines are rhymed in pairs.

Finally, in terms of form we get pretty regular stanzas of 10 lines each. But what's this cancerous growth on the bottom of stanza four? This guy doesn't reel it in until line 14. So what's that about? Is Marvell sneakily picking sides in the great soul versus body showdown? If more lines = more argumentative support, it seems like the body's 4-line last say gives it a slight edge.

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