The brain is wider than the sky,
For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include
With ease, and you beside.
The brain is deeper than the sea
For, hold them, blue to blue
The one the other will absorb
As sponges, buckets do.
The brain is just the weight of God
For, lift them, pound for pound,
And they will differ, if they do
As syllable, from sound.
I know when most people think of meter and poetry, the default setting is iambic pentameter, because that's what we study the most of in school. But twelve years of percussion study make me focus on the rhythm of poetry (sometimes to the detriment of not getting the poem itself because I'm so fascinated with the auditory quality) and I find iambic tetrameter far more interesting. Observe:
- Nearly all of Emily Dickinson's poetry is in iambic tetrameter.
- Although we don't much talk about poetry meter when we compose music, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "The Yellow Rose of Texas" are also in iambic tetrameter.
- The Sorting Hat songs in the Harry Potter series are in iambic tetrameter. That means you can sing all of them to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Want to impress people? Recite the entirety of the Sorting Hat song from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It's much easier than it looks because everything is easier to memorize when set to music.
- Iambic tetrameter fits the natural movement of our bodies. Try this: Walk as you say the poem above, with your right foot landing on the stressed syllable (this means you'll say the first syllable of the poem standing still; it's like a pickup note). As you read, if you don't stop walking on the silent syllable, you'll always land on your right foot at the end of the phrase. Now, this works with iambic pentameter, too, but what I find more interesting in tetrameter is that you'll walk in phrases of eight counts. You know what else is done in counts of eight? Dancing. (Well, not dances in 3/4 time, but you get the picture.)
- Iambic tetrameter is easy to read in rhythm, especially the way Emily Dickinson employs it. Read the above poem aloud. Because most of Dickinson's poetry (and the Sorting Hat song) pauses on every eighth count, you have a natural place to take a breath. Taking that breath means you can keep up the reading pace.