What is the meter of the poem "Lovers' Infiniteness"?

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"Lovers' Infiniteness" by John Donne consists of three eleven-line stanzas. As is the case with many of Donne's love poems, it uses the metrical pattern of a song, with varying line lengths within each stanza, although the same basic pattern is maintained across all three stanzas. Thus the...

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"Lovers' Infiniteness" by John Donne consists of three eleven-line stanzas. As is the case with many of Donne's love poems, it uses the metrical pattern of a song, with varying line lengths within each stanza, although the same basic pattern is maintained across all three stanzas. Thus the pattern of the first stanza is:

  1. iambic tetrameter
  2. iambic tetrameter
  3. iambic pentameter
  4. iambic pentameter
  5. iambic pentameter
  6. iambic pentameter
  7. iambic tetrameter
  8. iambic tetrameter
  9. iambic tetrameter
  10. iambic pentameter
  11. iambic tetrameter

Interestingly, Donne uses frequent initial inversions (substitution of a trochee for an iamb) or spondaic substitutions so that many lines begin with strong syllables despite the overall iambic pattern. Examples, with the strong syllables marked in bold, are:

  • Dear, I shall never . . .
  • Sighs, tears, and oaths, . . .
  • Love's riddles are . . .

The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABAB CDCD EEE. It should be notes that the last three lines of all three stanzas use the rhyme sound "all."

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"Lovers' Infiniteness" by John Donne has two different meters contained within the poem.  

The poem itself is made of three stanzas. Each stanza is 11 lines long.  The rhythm of the poem is iambic.  That means that an unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable.  Iambic rhythms are an easy rhythm for a reader to follow and can give many poems a "sing-song" quality.  

Donne utilizes a combination of eight-syllable lines and ten-syllable lines.  With the iambic rhythm, that makes the poem's meter iambic pentameter and iambic tetrameter.  A single unstressed syllable with its stressed partner makes a single "foot" of poetry.  So a line with 8 syllables in the iambic foot totals 4 feet in a single line.  Hence the iambic tetrameter.  10 syllables is 5 feet, or pentameter.  

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