Study Guide

The Prologue Form and Meter

By Anne Bradstreet

Form and Meter

Iamb Superwoman

The meter and the rhyme of this poem follow a really consistent pattern. Heck, even the stanzas are all the same length.

Remember, this is a poem designed to respond to people who say that women have no business writing poems, so Bradstreet had an incentive to prove she could handle the technical aspects. Plus, we think the calm, traditional form of the poem fits with the reassuring, only slightly teasing tone of the speaker.

Okay, let's kick things off with the stanzas, since that's pretty simple. There are eight separate sections (stanzas) in this poem, and each one has six lines. Got it? Good.

Now that's out of the way: on to the meter. This poem is written in iambic pentameter, which is definitely the rock star of English verse forms. (Yeah, we said that. We'd print it on a shirt and wear it to the prom. Iambs forever!) Ahem… the point is, iambic pentameter is a famous poetic meter, maybe best known from Shakespeare (who wrote his great plays only about 50 years before Bradstreet's poems were published). It works like this: there are five pairs of syllables in each line ("penta" means five), and in each pair of syllables the stress (or the accent) falls on the second. An iamb's beat sounds like daDUM (say "allowed" out loud and you'll hear an iamb in action). Here, we'll show you how that works in the first stanza by putting the stressed syllables in bold:

To sing of Wars, of Captains, and of Kings,
Of Cities founded, Common-wealths begun,
For my mean Pen are too superior things;
Or how they all, or each their dates have run,
(1-4)

See how that goes? You should hear daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM.
If it doesn't make sense on the page, try reading it out loud—that can really help you to feel the regular rhythm.

You know what else is regular? Did someone say rhyme scheme? If they did, they'd be right. There are three pairs of rhyming syllables in each stanza. We'll show you how they fit together by putting the rhyming sounds in bold, and matching them up with capital letters to represent the end rhyme sound for each line:

To sing of Wars, of Captains, and of Kings,          A
Of Cities founded, Common-wealths begun,          B
For my mean Pen are too superior things;              A
Or how they all, or each their dates have run,         B
Let Poets and Historians set these forth.                 C
My obscure lines shall not so dim their worth.         C

If we write out the letters, the rhyme scheme looks like this: ABABCC. The rhyming sounds themselves change in every stanza, but the pattern always stays the same.

So now we have to ask: why did Bradstreet put this poem together tighter than a drum? What's with all the incredible regularity? We think the content of this poem gives us a big clue. The form is so regular, so regimented, because it's a testament to the poet's writing chops: "Don't think women can write poetry? Oh, sure, I guess you're right. Let me just agree with you with this perfectly formed poem with a meter that you can march to and a rhyme scheme you can set your watch by. No biggie."

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