Meter: A study of Idylls of the King, Part 1: An Introduction

Published by OJB in the blog OJB's blog. Views: 212

Welcome to my 14 part study of Idylls of The King, written by Lord Alfred Tennyson. This study is part of a larger whole in where I am explaining and exploring Metrical Writing. Here is the Start of my Meter study for those wanting to learn about Metrical writing:

Idylls of the King tells the story of the Rise and Fall of King Arthur and is written in Blank Verse (unrhyming Iambic Pentameter.) The story has a sadness to it (due to its Elegiac tone) and is often looked at an Allegory for Tennyson's views on social conflicts during the Victorian era.

While the Primary goal of this study is to look at Meter, and how Tennyson weaves it to create a story, I will be looking at other elements such as Writing devices, Theme, story structure, Symbolism, and just General thoughts.

So, a little review.

Iambic Pentameter is a form of Metrical writing where you have Five feet (beats) of a Unstressed-Stressed Syllable pattern that creates Rhythmic effects.

It will sound like this: (da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM). Why do people write like this? My personal theory is that Great Music is often considered the greatest artistic achievement a person can accomplish, that good writing should aspire to be as close to music as possible.

Of course, there are a few substitutes and Variations that occur within Metrical writing in order to keep the beat of the story from being too monotone. Here is a list of terms and Symbols you will see throughout this study and what they mean.

Iamb (Unstressed Stressed)
Trochee (Stressed Unstressed)
Spondee (Stressed Stressed)
Double Iamb (unstressed unstressed/ stressed stressed)
Feminine ending (Extra-unstressed syllable)
(I) Feminine Ceasural pause. (A pause created by Punctuation after an unstressed Syllable)
(II) Masculine Ceasural pause (A pause created by Punctuation after a stressed Syllable)
(>) Elision (Omitting or slurring together Unstressed Syllables)
Headless Iamb (^ Stressed)

As we will go through this story, I will make notes of anything I find interesting.


The First part of this story is a Dedication in where Tennyson informs the reader about the subject matter he will be talking about: King Arthur.

I wanted to note an interesting Parallel I find between Dante's Divine Comedy and Tennyson's Idylls; In both stories the writers feel that certain Kings were picked by God Himself as Kings to rule mortal men. For Dante, this was Julius Caesar and Tennyson's it was King Arthur. The history/stories of these two follow a similar plot: Ambitious rulers who want to raise their kingdoms to new heights, are betrayed by those they trust most, and their kingdoms/empires fall into ruin as a result.

From these Tragic stories, we can see a plot patterns that repeat themselves over and over again throughout time. It is through these patterns that we as writers can look at are works and compares them to older works to see how they hold up and how much originality we bring to the table. Remember, it is not the pattern that is Cliche; it is the ideas we weave into the pattern that will decide the originality of our writing.

I want to end today's introduction with a look at the Ending Paragraph from the Dedication section from Idylls. It does a great job of helping the reader get 'in-tuned' with the Rhythm of the Meter.

His Love, unseen but felt, o'ershadow thee,
The love of all thy sons encompass thee,
the love of all thy daughters cherish thee,
The love of all thy people comfort thee,
Till God's love set thee at his side again.

His Love,(II)/ unseen/ but felt, (II) o'ershad/ow thee, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)*
The love/ of all /thy sons /encom/pass thee, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
the love /of all /thy daught/ers cher/ish thee, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
The love /of all/ thy peop/le com/fort thee,(Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Till God's/ love set/thee at/ his side /again. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

- (Dedication, lines 49-53)

*The first foot (his love) could also be a Spondee (His Love). The reason being is that 'his' is referring to God.


I hope you enjoyed this introduction to Idylls of the King, and I hope you read along for the next 13 parts. If you have any thoughts or questions please leave a comment of a like!


Next Post:
You need to be logged in to comment