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What Is Tetrameter?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Tetrameter is a form of poetic meter in which each line of a poem contains four “feet,” though each of these feet can be arranged in a number of different ways. Within this fairly simple and basic structure, however, there can be a great deal of variation between lines based on how those feet are structured. The feet in a line of poetry often follow a particular format that indicates how many syllables are in each foot and the stresses placed on those syllables. A line of poetry written in tetrameter usually has either eight or 12 syllables per line, depending on the type of metric rhythm used.

The meter of a particular poem indicates the rhythm of a poem, specifically with regard to how each line is structured and flows throughout the work. This is usually indicated by a descriptive word that refers to the number of feet within each line, such as tetrameter or pentameter. A poem written in tetrameter has four feet per line, the prefix “tetra” indicating four, while a poem in pentameter has five feet per line and a poem in heptameter has seven. These feet within each line are based on syllables, not individual words.

When the meter of a poem is described, it is typically done using two words; the first indicates how each foot in the poem is structured, and the second shows how many of these feet are found in each line. A poem that is described as being written in “iambic tetrameter” has lines that usually contain four feet per line with each foot written in the iambic manner. On the other hand, a poem in “iambic pentameter” also has feet written as “iambs,” but contains five feet per line. The meter is not an absolute rule, however, and many poems are written with occasional variations, especially in longer works, to avoid excessive repetition and keep the rhythm of the poem dynamic.

There are a number of different ways in which the feet in a poem can be written, and these are usually based on the number of syllables used per foot and the stresses placed on those syllables. A poem written in iambic tetrameter, for example, has four feet per line that are each written as iambs. Iambic feet contain two syllables, meaning each line of the poem contains eight syllables, with the first syllable unstressed and the second syllable stressed. A poem written in dactylic tetrameter, on the other hand, would use dactylic feet that each contain three syllables, meaning each line of the poem has 12 syllables, structured as a single stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables.

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