Skip main navigation


In discussing rhythm and metre, David demonstrates just how unnatural a poem becomes when the stresses are read out as incorrectly as possible.
Meter is one of those topics in poetry that we sort of all know it intuitively, but if we have to actually explain it, it’s very difficult. Rather than try and ram down your throat the difference between iambic pentameter and trochaic tetrameter and so on, I’m just going to read to you a poem where the stresses are going to be on exactly the wrong syllables, because I want you to hear how unnatural it is to have certain syllables stressed and certain syllables unstressed in a way that’s the opposite from how we normally speak.
Degree of difficulty - 10, don’t try this at home. “I love a sunburnt country, A land of sweeping plains, Of ragged mountain ranges, Of drought and flooding rains. I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea, Her beauty and her terror - The wide brown land for me!” What
am I on?

The poem I just butchered in this video, by the way, was My Country by Dorothea Mackellar, written in 1906.

Obviously, my deliberate misplacement of stresses and un-stresses was not how Dorothea would have intended her poem to be read (sorry, Dorothea!). It does, however, suggest that there is a certain magic that happens when poets tap into the natural rhythm of human speech.

English is a language which requires stresses to be placed on certain syllables in certain words in order to be understood properly. If you were from Mars, perhaps, and were trying to speak English for the first time and had no idea about stresses, you might sound something like my “unique” recital.

Unnatural beauty

I might be giving the impression that all poetry should feel natural. What circumstances can you think of where that might not be your aim in a poem?

This article is from the free online

Playing with Poetry: Creative Writing and Poetics

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education