Interactive Tutorial

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This tutorial will walk you through all the steps necessary to scan each line of a short poem in iambic pentameter. Read it aloud a few times, and think about the scene it portrays, before you begin scanning.

The Poem:

Click on any line to scan it, or use the button above to proceed in order. When you fully complete a line, the scansion will be shown here.

Congratulations! You have worked all the way through scanning a poem of eight iambic pentameter lines -- and not very easy ones, either. Most of the variations you will need to know to scan most English metrical verse (in iambic pentameter, at least) occur somewhere in there, so you have gotten a pretty thorough introduction.

The next thing to do depends on your needs and how you feel. If getting through the Auden poem seemed gruelling, you might want to do it again -- not out of masochism, but to show yourself how much easier it becomes with just a little practice.

Browsing through the Glossary and Reference pages could be helpful.

The Map also gives you two more paths to follow. The Advanced Topics pages point you toward some of the (large) quantity of detail yet to be explored. The Additional Exercises give you a quick run-through (like this Interactive Tutorial but more brisk) of quite a variety of kinds and uses of meters in English.

A nondescript express in from the South,
Crowds round the ticket barrier, a face
To welcome which the mayor has not contrived
Bugles or braid: something about the mouth
Distracts the stray look with alarm and pity.
Snow is falling. Clutching a little case,
He walks out briskly to infect a city
Whose terrible future may have just arrived.

The poem was written by W. H. Auden in 1938. It's called "Gare du Midi," which is the name of the station in Paris where trains from the provincial south of France enter the city. Its nameless central character could be anyone. Does the situation remind you of any other? Albert Camus' novel The Plague wasn't published until 1947; the film Twelve Monkeys didn't come out until 1995. Many people remembered this poem after September 11, 2001. Auden wrote it a year before World War II began.

The tutorial will take you through each line and ask you to

  1. identify polysyllables and their stresses and number of syllables
  2. identify stressed monosyllables
  3. divide the preliminary scansion marks into feet, and
  4. indicate any required promotions.

When you have finished all the steps for each line, you will see the poem again with that line's completed scansion inserted into it.

Remember that the Glossary and Reference menus are always available from the Map window. For an overview of the scansion process, go to the Reference item called Seven-Step Method.