Genii Weblog

The meters of Dr. Seuss

Wed 13 Jul 2005, 10:53 PM

by Ben Langhinrichs
You learn something new every day.  I was thinking about poetry, which I do rather more than I should I suppose, and especially about Dr. Seuss style poetry, and I decided to find out what it is called.  According to Wikipedia, Dr. Seuss's meters include anapestic tetrameter and trochaic tetrametere, along with the occasional iambic tetrameter.  According to the article, anapestic tetrameter was used by Byron as well.  Who'd have thunk it?

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What has been said:

336.1. Andrew Pollack
(07/13/2005 09:24 PM)

best I can come up with at 00:18 on the spur of the moment:

If care with your cadence you take,

and a name for this style you make,

perhaps you still need,

to try a new read,

as the name I would give, is mistake.

336.2. Stan Rogers
(07/13/2005 10:51 PM)

Hmmm... there's a line of amphibrachic tetrameter followed by a line consisting of two amphibrachs (di DUM di) and an iamb (di DUM), repeated to complete the stanza. The Greeks just didn't do this kind of thing. I don't know how far back it goes, but the traditional "Please to remember the Fifth of November" (a children's song in remembrance of the Gunpowder Plot and sung on and around Guy Fawkes Day in England) follows the pattern and can be traced back to, well, the Plot itself (1606). The pattern probably derives from the germanic traditions, where the odd addition or omission of unaccented syllables is allowed. (Note that the rhythm doesn't seem to suffer when the first syllable of a line doesn't show up.)

(Another morsel of useless knowledge can fall out of the brain now, having served its purpose, reproduced and propagated itself.)

336.3. Stan Rogers
(07/13/2005 11:06 PM)

And no, it is not anipestic. Them what can't hear the "di DUM di" as the main foot ain't payin' attention. (There is an academic myth that amphibrachs are never used as the principal foot of a poem. Perhaps not in beret-wearing, goatee-sporting circles, or by velvet-clad retro Romantics, but it's an extremely common pattern in comic verse.)

336.4. Ben Langhinrichs
(07/14/2005 05:02 AM)

Whatever you say. Maybe I'll just go back to saying "Dr. Seuss-like". Although, from what I read in the article, it sounds like he was more careful to keep one meter than I am. It even says something about imitators who don't understand the meter not ever sounding quite right. Could explain why he wrote and published a bunch of books and I am still self-publishing on a weblog.

Thanks for the lesson in poetry meter. although I'll just insist that everything I do is poetic license.

336.5. Ben's rather critical daughter
(07/14/2005 01:45 PM)

its Dr Seuss, not Dr Suess. come on dad :-P

336.6. Ben Langhinrichs
(07/14/2005 01:59 PM)

Darn, you are correct! I almost always mess that up. I have now fixed the main post (and the other posts in my blog where I got it wrong as well), and I will endeavor not to make that mistake again.

Of course, I'll leave your post so that future readers will wonder what you are talking about.

336.7. Stan Rogers
(07/14/2005 02:49 PM)

Seems to have worked -- I have no idea what all that prattling on about amphibious brachiosaurs playing tetris in German is all about, nor do I know why they're not antiseptic. Now I've got room upstairs for the LSX stuff I needed to learn. Yay!