Poetic Designs
An Introduction to Meters, Verse Forms, and Figures of Speech
  • Publication Date: April 7, 1997
  • ISBN: 9781551111292 / 1551111292
  • 252 pages; 6" x 9"

Note on pricing.

Request Exam Copy

Examination copy policy

Availability: Worldwide

Poetic Designs

An Introduction to Meters, Verse Forms, and Figures of Speech

  • Publication Date: April 7, 1997
  • ISBN: 9781551111292 / 1551111292
  • 252 pages; 6" x 9"

There are numerous introductions to poetry and prosody available, but none at once so comprehensive and so accessible as this. With the increasing emphasis on free verse, the past generation has developed a widespread impression that the study of poetic meter is old fashioned—or even that form ‘doesn’t matter’ in poetry. It is an impression that has not been dispelled by the emphasis of some of the existing texts in the area on forms that are now rare or outmoded. The irony is that simultaneously in the past decade interest in formal matters among many poets and literary scholars has been on the increase; the reality is that prosody is today on the cutting edge of literary studies.

Stephen Adams’ text provides a full treatment of traditional topics, from the iambic pentameter through other accentual-syllabic rhythms (trochaic, dactylic and so on) and covering as well other metrical types, stanza structure, the sonnet and other standard forms. Adams also includes a variety of topics not covered in most other introductions to the topic; perhaps most significantly, he provides a full chapter on form in free verse. Moreover, he treats rhyme extensively and includes a comprehensive chapter on literary figures. Poetic Designs is thus much more that an introduction to prosody; it is a concise but comprehensive introduction to the nature of poetry in English. It is a book for the general reader and the aspiring writer as well as for the student, a book intended (in the words of the author) to help ‘heighten the experience of poetry.’


“One of the book’s most salient strengths is how gracefully the author handles some of the knottiest problems a teacher of prosody will encounter. This is a very strong book” — Annie Finch, Miami University, Ohio

“One of the most impressive features is Adams’ mastery at introducing various intricacies as they surface in his examples instead of giving lists of rules and the like. Adams’ writing style is impeccable, lucid and tightly controlled. He manages to get through a great deal of material quite quickly, without ever sacrificing accuracy and thoroughness.” — Demetres Tryphonopoulos, University of New Brunswick

“A very good guide to the subject, full of erudition, but also full of pedagogical savvy. There is a fine and informal ear evident throughout.” — Don McKay, winner of the Governor General’s Award for Poetry

“Adams offers help to students and teachers of poetry with his lively, accessible guide to the mechanics of verse. [His] clear and measured examination of the elements of poetry and straight-ahead style make Poetic Designs a valuable resource.” — Quill and Quire


1. Meter and Rhythm

THE IMPORTANCE OF PROSODY / The Sound of Meter / Different Metrical Systems and Their Histories / The Meaning of Meter / THE ACCENTUAL-SYLLABIC SYSTEM / The Regular Iambic Pentamenter Line / Variation 1: The Reversal of Accent (Trochaic Substitution) / Variation 2: The Principle of Relative Accent (Spondaic and Pyrrhic Substitution) / Variation 3: Added Syllables (Anapestic and Dactylic Subsitution) / Variation 4: Omitted Syllables / SYNTACTIC RHYTHM AND THE LINE UNIT / Rhyme, Alliteration, Assonance and Onomatopoeia / Facility

2. Beyond Iambic Pentameter


3. Stanza and Form

THE DYNAMICS OF STANZA AND FORM: RHYME, LINE AND CLOSURE / Some Standard English Stanzas / Beyond the Single Stanza / Some Virtuoso Pieces / SOME STANDARD VERSE FORMS: FIXED AND NOT SO FIXED: The Sonnet / The French Forms / The Ode

4. Figures of Speech

RHETORIC AND FIGURE / THE SCHEMES: Figures of Balance and Parallelism / Figures of Repetition / Figures of Amplification and Omission / Figures of Address / Figures of Syntactic Deviation / Figures of Verbal Play / THE TROPES / Metaphor and Simile / Metonymy and Synecdoche / Personification / Irony and Paradox

5. Form in Free Verse

Lines: The Master Convention of Free Verse / Numbers: Metrical Presences in Free Verse / Figures: Syntactic Patterning in Free Verse / THE MARGINS OF GENRE: Shaped Poetry, Concrete Poetry, Sound Poetry / The Prose Poem

Appendix 1: The Terminology of Rhyming

Appendix 2: Sample Scansions, with Commentary

Index of Sources

Index of Names and Terms

Stephen J. Adams of the English Department at the University of Western Ontario, is currently Associate Dean of Arts at that university. He is also the author of
R. Murray Schafer, in the Canadian Composers Series of the University of Toronto Press.