Study Guide

The Cool Web Form and Meter

By Robert Graves

Form and Meter

Iambic Pentameter with Some Heroic Couplets (Nice and Classy)

Now, we know what you're thinking. Iambic pent-whometer? Stick with us, Shmoopers. We'll break all down for your. To start off with, it helps to know just what iambic pentameter is. Basically, that means that each line has five ("penta-" means five) iambs, which are two-syllable pairs that have an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable (they make a daDUM sound). Of course, it might be tough to see this meter at first, but that's because Robert Graves sometimes reverses the stressed syllables that are supposed to start each line. For example, an iamb is supposed to go unstressed-stressed, right? Right. But Graves starts the poem with the word "Children," which goes from stressed to unstressed (DAdum). That reversal? That's called a trochee in the poetry biz. After he does this, though, he tends to settle back into the iambic pentameter, as with the first line, where he continues:

are dumb to say how hot the day is. 

Now it's not clear whether Graves was doing this intentionally, but his tendency to start off his lines of iambic pentameter with a trochaic first foot is uncannily similar to the way that John Milton wrote his masterwork Paradise Lost, way back in 1667. And seeing how the theme of this poem is the "fall" from childhood innocence into the adult world of language, politics, and war, this reference to Adam and Eve getting kicked out of the garden of Eden would definitely be appropriate, here. Are you pickin' up what Graves is putting down?

On top of this, Graves also tends not to rhyme the first two lines of each of his first three quatrains (the last stanza has six lines, not four). It doesn't matter who you are; you can't find a way to make "angry day" (5) rhyme with "cruel scent" (6). (We tried for days, but then we just got a massive headache.) But Graves also ends each of those three quatrain with a little something something called a heroic couplet.

Nifty, eh? So what, you ask? Fair enough. These tactics show us that Graves is interested in the less rhyme-y verse of modern times, but also very devoted to the classical history of poetry, with all its fancy iambic pentameter and heroic couplet parings. In this sense, the classical expectations of poetic form are still a "web" that he's very caught up in, even while other poets during his time (like Ezra Pound) were more interested in writing something totally innovative and new.

But then you just have to wonder: if poetic form is a web that Graves is caught up in, is it also a "cool" web that tends to make his poetry less powerful? A poet like Pound might say yes, since he thinks it's the job of modern poetry to make itself totally new and free. But it's unclear what Graves' final verdict on this is, since he intentionally chooses not to throw off the forms of classical poetry. At least… he doesn't do that until that final six-line stanza. In this case, we still have some rhyming, but without any heroic couplets. The iambic pentameter is also less regular in this last part (only in lines 15 and 18). Maybe Graves was open to moving beyond the web of tradition after all.

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