Is Walter de la Mare's poem "All But Blind" written in iambic, trochaic, anapestic, or dactylic meter?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The meter (or prosody) of Walter de la Mare’s poem “All But Blind” is intriguing. Here is the brief poem, with the accented syllables marked in boldface type:

All but blind
In his chambered hole,
Gropes for worms
The four-clawed mole.

All but blind
In the burning day,
The barn owl
Blunders on her way.

And blind as are
These three to me,
So blind to someone
I must be.

As the somewhat debatable scansion (or analysis of meter) presented above suggests, the poem has no single, simple metrical pattern. Line one can be read as an anapest (two unaccented syllables, followed by an accented syllable), although it is possible to argue that “All” is accented here as well. Line two is an anapest followed by an iamb (an iamb being an unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable). Line 3 seems an anapest (although an argument can be made for giving “Gropes” an accent). Line four consists of two iambs.

Line five repeats the pattern (and creates the same difficulties) as line one. Line six is an anapest followed by an iamb (thus resembling line two).  Line seven might be called an amphibrach (an unaccented syllable, then an accented syllable, then an unaccented syllable). Light eight might be considered a trochee (an unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable), while the remaining three syllables in the line might be considered a cretic (accented, unaccented, then accented syllables), although an argument could be made that they are another anapest.

In the lines nine and ten there are no problems: the meter is plainly iambic. Line eleven seems to present an iamb followed by an amphibrach, while line twelve might be called another cretic.

In short, the meter of this poem follows no predictable pattern, and the scansion of some of the lines is definitely arguable. Probably de la Mare was deliberately experimenting and playing with metrical patterns in this poem. In a sense, their very lack of predictability leaves readers also “blind” in a figurative sense.