Study Guide

The Ruined Maid Form and Meter

By Thomas Hardy

Form and Meter

Iamb with (Mainly) Anapestic Trimeter

Ana-who-stic what-meter? We admit—these aren't terms you see every day. Let's start with anapestic trimeter, certainly one of the less common meters, no doubt about it. Okay, so what is it? Don't worry Shmoopers; we'll take it piece by piece. "Trimeter" means "three beats" ("tri-" means three), so that means that each line in this poem is going to have, well, three anapests. Those are beats that contain two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable. It sounds like this in your head: dadaDUM.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's look at a few examples from the poem to see it in action:

Who could have supposed I should meet you in town? (2)

Okay, now hold up a second here. We see the three anapests, beginning with "have supposed" (dadaDUM) and going to the end of the line. So… what's up with that first beat, "Who could"? What we have there is an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, and it is not an anapest.

That, folks, is an iamb, the most common beat in English poetry. Cool—but what's it doing in this poem? Well, if you listen to the regular anapests at the end of the line, you start to get kind of a dreamy, sing-song rhythm. The iamb that starts the line, though, perks you up: daDUM. It has the effect of grabbing your attention, before you slide back into a more metrical lull. In much the same way, this whole poem is trying to grab the reader's attention by bringing the issue of fallen women to light. That attention, though, is contrasted with the prevailing currents of society. Even on a metrical scale, the poem seems to reflect what it's trying to do: wake folks up before they fall back into more comfortable rhythms of thought. Neat, eh? If you look through the poem, you'll notice that many of the lines in the poem begin with an iamb, and are then followed by anapests. 

As for the rest of the formal elements of this poem, it is composed of six quatrains (stanzas of 4 lines each) that follow the rhyme scheme of AABB, CCBB, DDBB, EEBB, etc., where the letters stand for each line's end rhyme. So, the first two lines of each stanza rhyme, as do the last (successive lines like this that rhyme are called couplets). Notice also that the last two lines of each stanza all rhyme with each other (they are all the B's).

Now that that's covered, let's talk a little bit about what all this means. The poem is a dialogue, with two different speakers, so it makes sense that this poem is comprised of couplets. The lines in the poem "talk" to each other, much like the two women talk to each other. Their conversation is the star of our poem, underscoring the social hypocrisy that Hardy was all about trying to take down.

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