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Meter in "To His Coy Mistress"


The meter is strikingly even throughout: eight syllables per line consisting of four iambs, or feet (that is, an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable). It is textbook iambic tetrameter. Yet somehow the tempo of the poem picks up notably even though the meter remains the same. Playing as he does with the listener’s sense of time, the speaker is able to maintain a regulated meter while intensifying the poem’s pace to support his argument.

- lines 1-2 - "Had we but world enough, and time, / This coyness, lady, were no crime."
In the first section of the poem, the speaker does not seem as conscious of “Time’s wingèd chariot” (22), and he spends time fancifully describing how they would behave if there were world enough and time, as if that were the case. Despite the even meter of these first two lines (which is maintained throughout the poem), he does “pause” in these first two lines when he inserts commas, interrupting himself to demonstrate how comfortable he is with the slow passage of time.

- line 41 - "Let us roll all our strength and all"
Although the meter of this line is the same as every other line in the poem, it mirrors the speaker’s breathlessness. It is possible for the pace of the poem to quicken even though the meter stays the same through the absence of punctuation and the concentration of one-syllable words. This line also comes right after a sentence that runs for eight straight lines without much of a pause: It is clear that the speaker is in a hurry and almost out of breath.

Questions for response

1). How does this examination of meter change your understanding of how the poem works as a whole?


2). Find other metrical shifts or irregularities in the poem. What do they contribute to the work?





 
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