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by Suzette Richards

In my poem, Then Understand, I have used words beginning alternately with consonants and vowels to create the poem; concluding with a well-known phrase by Confucius (551—479 BCE), paraphrasing it to allow for the pattern I have set in the poem:


‘I hear, I know. I see, I remember. I do, I understand.’ ~ Confucius



Rainbows of hope endlessly span in the ether vast

Effortlessly redoubling in voids’ empty caverns

Every thought entwined, lacking innate freedom


Illumination grandiosely illustrated to a select audience

Captivated in the auspicious moment of success

Impressing no one with odious jargon

And theses absorbed through ever pouring over scrolls

A mind inundated with alien concepts


Anew the intricate webs influence the inner psyche

Arrows carelessly aimed, fired at Cupid’s aura

Finding a willing entrance to a yearning, aching heart


Embracing the agreement to eternal life in the unconditional love offered

Confucius: ‘I hear, I know. I see, I remember. I do, I then understand.’


When reading poetry we do not, as a rule, concentrate on the devices employed by the poet when he wrote the poem. It might have a rhythm which we find pleasing and it draws us in. On first reading, a good poem should evoke images which we perhaps identify with or an emotion which stirs our soul or mind – often spurring us into action. Protest poetry (for example, grook) of various countries may be categorised in the latter group. 

The definitions of poetry forms are even at times confusing to the poets and the poetry readers do not have to trouble themselves with these devices. An explanation of how some poems are constructed will hopefully give you an appreciation of this craft and enhance your reading experience.



In the English language, almost all words are made up of one or more vowels (a, e, i, o, u) and usually consonants, but never purely consonants. For this exercise, we will concentrate on the vowels as listed. Here follow some examples:

ai: (ah’-i) n. (rhymes with ‘cry’) Three-toed sloth of South America.

This word consists of two vowels (‘a’ and ‘i’) and the stress is on the last vowel. Both vowels are pronounced separately. Similar to ‘diary’: di’ar???? ?y.

bait: v. (rhymes with ‘sate’) Worry animal by setting dogs at it, etc. ‘Bait’ has two vowels which are NOT pronounced separately, ie the diphthong ‘ai’ is pronounced as one sound.



Syllable counts may vary from one app to another on the Internet.


bait: This word consists of two vowels (‘a’ and ‘i’ ) and two consonants (‘b’ and ‘t’). The diphthong ‘ai’, gives us one syllable count for this word.

baited: v. (Past tense) The additional ‘-ed’ is pronounced in this case and it, therefore, results in an additional syllable count.

atone: (at O’ ne: stress on the ‘o’ ) v.i. Make amends.

This word has three vowels (‘a’, ‘o’ and ‘e’), but only the ‘a’ (un-stressed) and the ‘o’ (stressed) are pronounced, resulting in a syllable count of two.

every: (‘e-vri) a. This word has two vowels (2 x ‘e’) with the stress on the first vowel. However, in poetry, the ‘y’ is also reckoned as a vowel sound. As the SECOND ‘e’ is NOT pronounced, and the ‘y’ counts as a vowel sound in poetry, ‘every’ is seen to have two syllables. Further example: The word ‘very’ has 2 syllables.

Unusual words need to be sounded out, for example, nebulæ [3]; négligé [3]; façade [2]; bona fide [3]; bona petit [4 – BTW, the final ‘t’ is not pronounced in ‘petit’] …



‘atone’ will be written as */ (per the notation favoured by me) to indicate the unstressed and stressed syllables.

A metrical foot consisting of, for example, an unstressed, followed by a stressed syllable (a short, followed by a long syllable, or one unaccented, followed by one accented syllable), as in ‘delay’, is known as an iamb metre, written as: */ or ?   –.

Iamb metre: i•ambs, also plural: i•am•bus•es or i•am•bi

A standard quatrain poem (as in my example, April 1994—overleaf), will be described as follows:

Lines 2 & 4 must rhyme, but change from one stanza to the next. Example: xaxa, xbxb, xcxc, etc. (‘x’ = unrhymed lines). First and third line: Iambic Tetrameter (four); second and fourth lines: Iambic Trimeter (three).

The basic pattern of iambic tetrameter is: */ | */ | */ | */

The basic pattern of iambic trimeter is: */ | */ | */

Note that the vertical bars [ | ] separate the metric feet.



Some poetry forms have a combination of metres, often using a different metre for the refrain, as discussed under the requirements of certain poetry forms. Why do we concern ourselves with the design of a particular poem? Unless you are writing in free verse (which also have certain rules attached to the composition thereof), even if you Rap, metre lends rhythm to the piece penned. You would not dance foxtrot to waltz music, or riel dance to kwela; the metre in poetry forms vary in the rhythm it wishes to attain.  Robert Frost said ‘Poetry without rules is like a tennis match without a net’.

Much lyric poetry depends on regular metre based either on the number of syllables or on stress. The most common metres are as follows: 

Iambic - two syllables, with the short or unstressed syllable followed by the long or stressed syllable.

Trochaic - two syllables, with the long or stressed syllable followed by the short or unstressed syllable. In English, this metre is found almost entirely in lyric poetry.

Pyrrhic - Two unstressed syllables

Anapaestic - three syllables, with the first two short or unstressed and the last long or stressed.

Dactylic - three syllables, with the first one long or stressed and the other two short or unstressed.

Spondaic - two syllables, with two successive long or stressed syllables.