Sometimes trying hard just screws you up!

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“It is important to note that scansion is not an exact art.  Ambiguities exist about the degrees of stress and the predominant meter of some lines, and expert readers may vary in the ways that they apportion stresses in a line” (Hamilton 205).

What a relief to learn that even the experts can’t agree sometimes!  Scansions frequently frustrate me because the harder I try to figure out what the stressed syllable is, the more I get confused.  I say it the one way, then I say it the other—and both seem right to me!  Sometimes, granted, it is clear what is stressed, but sometimes there is a very fine line.  It is comforting to hear that there is at least some leeway for discrepancies.  If the experts don’t know, I certainly don’t feel bad not being able to tell for sure.  But more than anything else, I think doing scansions correctly is just going with your first instinct, the more you analysis it, the harder it is to tell which part of the word is stressed.    


You're not alone on this issue. I also have difficulties figuring out which syllable is stress. I liken talent in scansions to talent in music: some people have it ,and some don't.

Tiffany Gilbert said:

I see how you would want to go with your first instinct about which words are stressed and unstressed, but I think it works better with practice and learning which words typically are stressed/unstressed. After awhile I have found myself remembering common words and how they are often scanned...(minus exceptions of course).
Once you've got a scanned line, it is much easier to understand the meaning and emphasis on words.

Stephanie Wytovich said:

It is comforting to know that someone out there feels the same way as I do. As soon as someone even mentions poetry, I’m praying that they are going to say read it, and not write or scan it. As much as I love the fact that literature is open to discussion and there is no wrong answer (as long as you can support your claim), I really hope this tactic was cut and dry, like dare I say it, math. Scanning is difficult enough, and the fact that there is leeway towards it makes it that much harder. I do agree with you though. The more I analyze poetry meter, the harder it gets. This truly is one of those things where you just have to trust your instincts and go with it.

Jeanine O'Neal said:

Here's a little trick to scanning a poem. It's not 100 percent accurate, but it will help you in some cases.

To figure out which syllables are stressed or unstressed remember this:

If you have to move your tongue or lips to make the general sound of that syllable (meaning you can't make that sound with jsut your throat) then it probably is stressed. Likewise, if you can make the sound of the syllables with your throat, then it is probably unstressed.

Remember, this isn't follproff, but I hope it helps none the less.

Erica Gearhart said:

Honestly, I think that, although there are some rules behind scansion, these rules can easily and successfully be manipulated. Not even Shakespeare has perfect iambic pentameter in each of his lines if you look closely. I think that poetry is all about making up your own rhythm. I'm not saying that a completely free verse poem can also be proclaimed a sonnet, but I think that variations, when inserted intentionally, only accentuate the author's individual work instead of just showing that a style can be mimicked. Also, the way that someone reads your poem may be completely different from the way that you, the writer wanted it to be stressed. Maybe I the writer want to stress the word "here" even though it is not normally a prominent word. There are too many inconsistences for scansion to have rules that are set in stone.
P.S. Greta, I love your idea about going with your first instinct!

Kaitlin Monier said:

It is nice to know that scholars can't agree on scansion sometimes. Saying words just varies from person to person and there is no one right way, just like the rest of English.

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