Form and Meter
Syllabic, Rhymed, Six-Line Stanzas
You might have read poetry where the lines are arranged by meter. Does iambic pentameter (found a lot in Shakespeare) ring a bell? You know, that confusing system of stresses, beats, and feet?
Well, you can forget all of that for now, because Marianne Moore organizes her lines by syllable, not by stress. We all know what a syllable is, right? If you don't, go look it up real quick -- we'll be waiting for you here when you get back.
Each line in the poem has a certain number of syllables. The first line,
is (1) an (2) en- (3) chan- (4) ted (5) thing (6)
has six syllables. Moore is a super-organized lady, so each stanza follows the same pattern of syllables. And—drumroll please—that pattern is as follows:
Line 1: 6 syllables
Line 2: 5 syllables
Line 3: 4 syllables
Line 4: 6 syllables
Line 5: 7 syllables
Line 6: 9 syllables
The poem, as you might have already noticed, is organized in six separate stanzas of six lines each. Moore was keeping things tidy, and giving structure to a poem that is, otherwise, all over the place. But as we'll soon find out, she has other ways of creating form…
Poetic magician that she is, Moore makes up her own rhyme scheme in this poem and sticks to it.
For each stanza, it goes ABACCD.
Here's how it is in the first stanza:
- The first and third end words rhyme: "thing" with "wing." We call that A because it's the first rhyme in the stanza.
- The fourth and fifth end words rhyme: "sun" with "legion." Those are C because we have the interrupting and unrhymed second end word "a."
- There's also the last end word in each stanza, D, which is unrhymed.
This pattern continues throughout the poem, but it's not super obvious when you're reading, is it? That's because she leaves the second and final line of each stanza completely unrhymed, successfully avoiding the nursery-rhyme, sing-songy feel. This poem is about what it means, not how it sounds.
Nevertheless, rhyme is yet another way that Moore builds a structure for a poem about something as enchanting and hard to pin down as the mind.
Why the Rhyme? Why, It's the Reason.
We know what you're thinking. Big whoop, so she's got syllabic and rhyming patterns. What's the point?
Well, like all great poets, Moore is relating her form to her content. This poem's all about the mind, and two things it emphasizes are the mind's penchant for memory and reason. Rhyme and form in a poem are all about memory. As in, hey, remember that rhyme scheme from the last stanza? Well, here it is again!
And they're also about reason. This poem is chock full of wacky images that bend the brain and melt the mind. But still, we can make sense of it, and one thing that helps us is the repetitive look of the stanzas and the expectation that those syllable-counts set up. When those expectations are fulfilled by each of the stanzas, we can check off a box on our to-do list of understanding. We're one step closer to cracking Moore's code.