Syllables and Syllabic Verse

Poetry Talks #2

A syllable is a segment of language that consists of a vowel that is pronounced and, sometimes, the consonants immediately preceding or following. A word can be a single syllable or it can be consisting of more syllables.


Red: One syllable that consists of the pronounced vowel <e>, the precedent consonant <r>, and the following consonant <d>. Red is a monosyllabic word because the word itself consists of only one syllable.

Story: Sto-ry Two syllables: “Sto-” one syllable consisting of one pronounced vowel (<o>) and its two preceding consonants(<s>, <t>). “-ry” one syllable consisting of one pronounced vowel (<y>) and its preceding consonant (<r>). “Story” is a disyllabic word because it consists of two syllables.

Some languages are syllable-timed, which means that the perceived duration of the syllables is roughly equal, while other languages, such as the English, are stress-timed, which means that the perceived time between stressed syllables is equal. We will elaborate on stress in future posts so, for now, let’s just focus on syllables and how they affect poetry.

Introduction to Syllabic Verse

In syllabic verse, as its name suggests, the poem’s meter consists of a fixed number of syllables per line.

While it makes sense to think that syllable-timed languages favour this type of poetry, literature has shown us that art has no limits and therefore this form has been used in many stress-timed languages too.

A Short List of Unrhymed, Syllabic Poetic Forms

➼Haiku: It consists of three lines of 5/7/5 equaling a total of 17 syllables, and is most often on the subject of nature.

Toward those short trees We saw a hawk descending On a day in spring. - Masaoka Shiki

➼Senryu: Unrhymed Japanese poem consisting of 5/7/5 equaling a total of 17 syllables. Unlike Haiku, Senryu references aspects of human nature, often in a satiric manner.

(師走より, 義母(はは)が来る日は, 大掃除 Source: Subtle humor of haiku’s cousin senryū is on a roll)

Our massive cleanup Not done in December, but When his mother comes

➼Cinquain: This poem consists of five lines: Line 1: 2 syllables Line 2: 4 syllables Line 3: 6 syllables Line 4: 8 syllables Line 5: 2 syllables

Niagara by ADELAIDE CRAPSEY Seen on a Night in November

How frail Above the bulk Of crashing water hangs, Autumnal, evanescent, wan, The moon.

(My attempt: Echoes Through the Wind)

➼Tanka: Unrhymed Japanese poem consisting of five lines of 5/7/5/7/7 equaling a total of 31 syllables. Longer than the Haiku, Tanka often focuses on a particular event, emotion, or mood.

FOR SATORI by PHILIP APPLEMAN In the spring of joy, when even the mud chuckles, my soul runs rabid, snaps at its own bleeding heels, and barks: “What is happiness?”

➼Dodoitsu: Unrhymed Japanese poem consisting of 7/ 7/ 7/ 5 syllables equaling a total of 26 syllables. Dodoitsu is often humorous or satirical and focuses on love or work.

We speak of falling in love and falling again from there, while seldom coming to rest on dedication. — Marie Elena Good

Etheree: Unrhymed poem that consists of 10 lines of 1/ 2/3/4/ 5/ 6/ 7/ 8/ 9/ 10 syllables each. Sometimes it can bear a second hidden meaning. Etheree can also be reversed and written 10/9/8/7/6/5/4/3/2/1, or it can be a mix of the two (Etheree and Reversed Etheree), called Double Etheree.

My attempt:Find Me Find me, amid moments you spend at night In the fine line of darkness and light, In scents of fear sourcing from words, In long neglected islands, or dry, deserted shores. Find me, when shadows rise, and you lay in bed — its one side cold. Cold. When it hurts your bones think of me there for a moment, then, along with the shadows let me fade away again like those remote pasts you cherish where “you” and “I” formed a single word, and I lived solely through your breath. Find me. Then let me go.


➼Nonet: A poem that consists of nine lines of 9/8/7/6/5/4/3/2/1 syllables. It can be on any subject.

Stephen M. Tomic and I once collaborated on a Nonet project for a P.S. I Love You prompt:

Love or Not by Stephen M. Tomic It’s almost time to pop the question My heart swells when I think of you A lifetime spent together Ring is in my pocket I drop to one knee And hear you say “It’s over!” “Will you?” Fuck!

Love or Not by DiAmaya Dawn I wanted this to go the right way We both said we needed to talk. I am so worried, so stressed, But I need to be nice. No reason to hide, We know we’re done. “It’s over!” A ring? “Shit!”

➼Shadorma: Unrhymed Spanish poem that consists of 6 lines of 3/5/3/3/7/5 syllables.

A combination of Shadorma poems I once wrote:

The Truth Beneath Picture this: A room, dimly lit, You and I, Words, and sounds Of a melody we love Dancing around us
Think of this: A room, far away, Can hide us From the world — Nothing would feel more like home Than your scent this night
Believe this: A poet seeks charm To hide truths Like this room Hides us beneath its beauty — Our secret shelter
Fathom this: A poem, our room, Their beauty, Their veiled truths, Surface starlit before us In secret nightskies
All we have — A violet sunset, A few words, Four brick walls, And a dream, will keep us safe As long as you’re here

Now, I would like you to give it a try. Here’s our challenge:

Write a combination of five Haiku or Senryu or Tanka or Cinquain or Dodoitsu or Nonet or Etheree or Shadorma that together tell a story and:

Post them as a response to this blog post


Send your draft to Lit Up

And, of course, don’t hesitate to ask any questions you may have!

Thank you for reading!

That’s all for today.

Love, DiAmaya Dawn

*(Note: some people (including some linguists), instead of the term “dissyllabic”, use the malformed term “bisyllabic”. However such word does not make sense since it is formed by two components that do not agree in origin: “bi” is derived from Latin, while “syllable” from Greek. The alternative and, in my opinion, correct term is “disyllabic” of which, both components are of Greek origin. And no, not because I’m Greek!)

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