How do I go about to mark the syllables, separate the feet and indicate the rhyme scheme of this part of Keats' "Ode on a Greacian Urn"?  When old age shall this generation waste, Thou shalt...

How do I go about to mark the syllables, separate the feet and indicate the rhyme scheme of this part of Keats' "Ode on a Greacian Urn"?


When old age shall this generation waste,

Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe

Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,

Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Marking syllables, separating metrical feet and indicating rhyme scheme are all steps in scansion, the process by which a poem's rhythm, meter and rhyme are analyzed. Marking syllables refers to finding the stressed and unstressed beats of the rhythm. It's very much like music: some beats of a measure of music are emphasized while other are softened.

Poetry has a number of possible rhythms. A common one is iambs. These have a rhythm of a soft beat followed by an emphasized beat. Poetic terminology for this is unstressed stressed and may be typed like this ^ / , with the ^ meaning unstressed and the / meaning stressed. Another example is dactyls. These have a rhythm of stressed unstressed unstressed / ^ ^. The words accented and unaccented can be used in place of stressed and unstressed.

Look at the first line in Keats poem: "When old age shall this generation waste." In the first line there is a problem and a clue to scansion. The problem is that Keats varies the rhythm so that old age shall this isn't exactly in a smooth rhythm, so save the first half of the line for last.

The clue is the word generation. Look it up and you see that its syllabic pronunciation is gen e RA tion, or stressed unstressed stressed unstressed, or / ^ / ^ . This means generation fits either an iamb ( ^ / ) or a trochee ( / ^ ) rhythm. Choose which by scanning the first line using these marks ' (stressed) ^ (unstressed). Try it both ways:

When' old^ age' shall^ this' gen' e ^ ra' tion^ waste',
When^ old' age^ shall' this^ gen' e^ ra' tion^ waste',

Scanning the line with an emphasis on When' creates a problem between this and gen-. While this can be either stressed or unstressed, gen- must be stressed. We now know that the opening line is ^ /, or unstressed stressed, or iambic, not trochaic.

Now how many repetitions of the pattern, or how many divisions of metrical feet, are there?  Indicate a division between every iamb ^ /:
When^ old' / age^ shall' / this^ gen' / -e^ ra' / -tion^ waste',

The rhythmic pattern falls into five repetitions, or five feet, or pentameter. Meter has two meanings. If someone asks, "What is the meter of this poem?" the answer includes both rhythm and feet. One answer might be, "The meter is trochaic trimeter." If someone asks you, "How many feet are there in each line of this poem?" it is correct to answer, "The meter is five feet, or pentameter."

Check each line to see if they are all the same. Poets may vary the rhythm. Line 4 has a significant variation. Scanning beauty according to its syllabic division causes a problem between is and truth. Keats varied the stress this way:  Beau^ ty' / is^ truth', / truth^ beau' / -ty^, - that' / is^ all'.

The line rhymes are waste, woe, say'st, all and know. Some rhyme, one doesn't. Assign a letter code to the words to see the rhyme scheme emerge:

waste    a
woe    b 
say'st    a
all    c
know    b

The rhyme scheme is a b a c b. Each end word that does not rhyme with one ahead of it gets a new letter designation. For example, dog, see, cat, lap, down, crown would have a rhyme scheme of a b c d e e, with e e forming a closing couplet (two rhymes lines).

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