Vachel Lindsay

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How does the meter in "" reflect the meaning?

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The poem uses two distinct rhythms. It uses dactyl (each foot is one hard stressed beat followed by two soft beats: DUM da da) and trochee (each foot is one hard stress followed by a soft beat DUM da). The first four lines would be read like this:

DUM da da DUM da da DUM da DUM da

DUM da da DUM da DUM da DUM

DUM da da DUM da DUM da DUM

DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da

The meter is tetrameter. This is four feet per line. So this poem uses dactylic and trochaic tetrameter.

One significant use of tetrameter is that it uses four beats per measure. In different periods of history and definitely in the modern era, this is the most common meter for songs. Lindsay was known to travel and recite his poetry almost like a vaudeville act. So, it fit his style. Fittingly, the poem is in the most common meter of song structure.

The speaker in the poem is clearly stating that something is wrong with the factories, working conditions or the culture under the industrial age. His reference to Hamlet, “Something is rotten – I think, in Denmark” indicates that something is wrong in America as a whole. Noting that no stones are thrown through chapel windows, Lindsay is indicating that a religious (Christian) perspective will only help America through its industrial revolution. The “rotten” things in American factories might be poor working conditions but Lindsay may also be referring to the emerging materialistic culture.

The use of tetrameter as a song also functions as a hymn, which adds to this religious angle. Lastly, using common song structure appeals to the emotions and to memory. It is catchy, harmonious and gets stuck in your head.

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