Systems of scansion

Systems of scansion

A system of scansion is a way to mark the metrical patterns of a line of poetry. In classical poetry, these patterns are based on the different lengths of each vowel sound, and in English poetry, they are based on the different stresses placed on each syllable. In both cases, the meter often has a regular foot. Over the years, many different systems have been established to mark the scansion of a poem.

Classical scansion — macron and breve

The original marks for scansion came from the quantitative meter of classical prosody where long syllables were marked with a macron( ¯), and short syllables were marked with a breve ( ˘).

Ictus and breve

Fussellref|fussell, Turcoref|turco, and Williamsref|williams all use the ictus for stressed syllables, and the classical breve for unstressed syllables. Cornref|corn describes this as a notation which evolved from the classical notation.

Turco's version of this is to use a dot (·) to indicate the middle syllable in a string of three unstressed syllables has been 'promoted' to a "secondary" or weaker stress.ref|turco15

Robert Bridges' accentual prosody

In developing a prosody for accentual verse, Robert Bridgesref|bridges classifies the following types of syllable:

Jespersen's system

In 1900, Otto Jespersen in his "Notes on Metre" was the first to use a four-stress system.ref|jespersen. He used the numbers 1 to 4, to indicate varying degrees of stress: strong, half-strong, half-weak, and weak.

Lanier's musical notation

This has not always been viewed kindly. For example Vladimir Nabokov in his "Notes on Prosody" says: "In my casual perusals, I have of course slammed shut without further ado any such works on English prosody in which I glimpsed a crop of musical notes." (pages 3–4)


# see Harvey Gross and Robert McDowell, "Sound and Form in Modern Poetry", ISBN 0-472-06517-3. page 4. Gross is referring to Grierson's "Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the Seventeenth Century" Oxford University Press, 1921. ISBN 0-19-881102-0. page xxiv.
# see Paul Fussell, "Poetic Meter and Poetic Form," McGraw Hill, 1965, revised 1979. ISBN 0-07-553606-4.
# see Lewis Turco, "" ISBN 0-87451-380-4 and ISBN 0-87451-381-2 (paperback), original 1968, expanded version 1986.
# see Miller Williams, "Patterns of Poetry," Louisiana State University Press, 1986. ISBN 0-8071-1253-4. ISBN 0-8071-1330-1 (paperback).
# see Turco, "op. cit." page 15.
# Alfred Corn, "The Poem's Heartbeat," ISBN 1-885266-40-5, Story Line Press, 1997. page 27.
# "English feet concern themselves with stressed and unstressed syllables, normally notated / and ×. The snag is that some continental measures, including a number of forms that have found their way into English, are concerned with long and short syllables, generally notated – and ⌣. " — page 79, Michael Baldwin, "The Way to Write Poetry," Elm Tree Books / Hamish Hamilton, 1982. ISBN 0-241-10749-0.
# see Timothy Steele, "All the fun's in how you say a thing," Ohio University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-8214-1260-4.
# see for example, Peter Makin (editor) "Basil Bunting on Poetry," Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-8018-6166-7. See page 199.
# see for example the article on 'Iamb' (page 360), "Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Enlarged Edition," Macmillan, 1965, enlarged 1974. ISBN 0-333-18122-0 (paperback).
# see Robert Bridges, "Milton's Prosody, with a chapter on Accentual Verse and Notes"
# see Philip Hobsbaum, "Metre, Rhythm and Verse Form" Routledge, 1996. ISBN 0-415-08797-X.
# see Corn, "op. cit." page 29.
# Wallace's essay is reprinted in David Baker (editor), "Meter in English, A Critical Engagement," University of Arkansas Press, 1996. ISBN 1-55728-444-X. See page 34 for comments on Trager Smith.
# see Wallace's essay in Baker, "op. cit." page 30.
# see Corn, "op. cit." page 30.
# see Derek Attridge, "," Cambridge University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-521-42369-4. Appendix I, page 213

Other references

*Edward Bysshe, "Rules for Making English Verse"
*Bastiaan Adriaan Pieter van Dam, "Chapters on English Printing, Prosody, and Pronunciation"
*Alan Holder, "Rethinking Meter"
*Tom Hood, "A Practical Guide to English Versification"
*George Saintsbury, "Manual of English Prosody"

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