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How to Determine Light Stress from Heavy Stress

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I've read some of the helpful articles but am still having issues determining whether a syllable is a light stress of a heavy stress.  And, from what I gathered (besides don't slant rhyme, don't force it, etc.), the stresses are extremely important because it dictates the pattern.  And, again from what I gathered, the pattern needs consistency throughout the story.

Let's take the following line from a PB I'm writing:

She ran behind the counter and picked a vase so big and grand.
  l      l         h/l        l          h/l            l          h/l     l     h       l     h     l          h 
Then began to pick some humans, each meticulously planned.
     l          h/l      l     h             l            h/l         l             l/h/l/l/l               l   

When I read through these two sentences, I feel like there is a rhythm that works but (and I might be extremely far off with my labeling) but if I'm remotely close with my labeling, there is no meter whatsoever. Is this correct?  Can you have rhythm without having a meter?  But the idea is to have both perfect rhythm and perfect meter?

Any insight is appreciated.
#1 - January 23, 2019, 05:45 PM

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Nathan, I don't agree with some of your designations of light or heavy stress. (I may have misunderstood them. I use large and small Xs.)

For ex, you have "behind" as an Xx, but I don't say BEhind. (I live in the upper Midwest.) To me, they're equally stressed, or the second syllable is a little stronger.  Without looking at how you had it marked, I would have read that sentence as:
She ran behind the counter and picked a vase so big and grand.
xXxXxXxxxxXxXxX 

The stresses alternate, starting on the weak stress, with a little muddiness in the middle.

Then began to pick some humans, each meticulously planned.
xxXxXxXx(x)xxXxXxX

I think you could probably do something about the middle of the first line, but I agree that the lines work pretty well--especially the second (which also gets the benefit of the payoff image). But I think they do have meter, and aren't random.

I hope something in that helped.  :goodluck
#2 - January 23, 2019, 06:15 PM
Learning to Swear in America (Bloomsbury, July 2016)
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One of the best ways to check which syllable of a word has the heavier stress is to look it up in a dictionary. Also, any word with four syllables or more will have at least two stronger. English speakers rarely have more than two unstressed syllables next to each other. As Dews points out, some words are pronounced differently in different regions. This makes all of this harder. Merriam Webster's Online has the second syllable in behind as the stressed syllable except in the noun form. Chose a good dictionary and use it consistently.

Articles and one word conjunctions and prepositions usually don't receive the stress in a sentence, but they can. He went to the store. (Went and store are stressed.) He went with Jack and Jill. (Went, Jack, Jill are stressed.) But he left me home. (But will be stressed. It's beginning anew sentence for emphasis. The rest depends on the speaker--me might be emphasized as well.) However, He went with Jack and Jill but he left me home. (Went, Jack, Jill, left, home.)

It's about what the author intends. Using words carefully, and pauses shown with commas, dashes, and semi colons, can help the reader decide how to read.

This site gives you a way to practice recognizing stresses: http://prosody.lib.virginia.edu/. It takes a while to get the hang of it. It helps to read your work out loud or have others read it to you and see where they stumble.
#3 - January 23, 2019, 06:44 PM
« Last Edit: January 23, 2019, 08:24 PM by Debbie Vilardi »
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If you dig around, you will run across people who talk about four levels of emphasis in spoken English. From your example of "meticulously," you pointed out that the "tic" receives the strongest emphasis, but it could fit into a string of iambs because there is weak stress on "u" before heading back toward another emphasis on "lous." Instead of _ / _ _ _ as you scanned, I would consider it  _ / _ / _. Some words are trickier to pin down, but two books that I found helpful to dig into the nitty-gritty of meter and rhythm in poetry are:

    Alfred Corn, The Poem's Heartbeat
    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/881744.The_Poem_s_Heartbeat

    Timothy Steele, All the Fun's in How You Say a Thing
    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1541498.All_The_Fun_s_In_How_You_Say_A_Thing

I have read parts of The Ode Less Traveled, by Stephen Fry, and keep meaning to go back to it.
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/66856.The_Ode_Less_Travelled

I also just discovered that Mary Oliver wrote Rules of the Dance, which means I have another book on my to-read list...
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/201217.Rules_for_the_Dance
#4 - January 23, 2019, 06:45 PM

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Brian, thanks for the resources. I've added the books to our Rhyme Primer posts.
#5 - January 23, 2019, 08:27 PM
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Thanks Debbie, I feel so official now!  8) 

Nathan: Good luck in your continued education on meter. I was thinking more on it last night, and I think that exposure to lots of music is a good way to develop a sense of meter and rhythm. Especially camp songs that are often sung with no accompaniment other than campfire, clapping, and stomping. There are a lot of rhythms that are repeated again and again. For example, nearly everything by Emily Dickinson is in Common Meter, or Ballad form. This means that you can sing them to the tune of The Yellow Rose of Texas, or Gilligan's Island, or Material Girl, or.... 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_metre

Personally, I often feel the struggle between working within well known rhythms versus reaching for something new and fresh.  There is room for both, though, and having a strong understanding of what has come before provides a stable base to leap to the next level.
#6 - January 24, 2019, 08:18 AM

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