What is verse in poetry


The verse is a unit that is known to us from lyrical texts, i.e. poetry. The verse denotes a poetic word sequence within a poem and is usually put in lines. That is why we often refer to the verse as a line, even if we should correctly speak of a line of verse. So every line of a poem is a verse.

The verse consists of metric and rhythmic unitsthat add some rhythm to the poem. This rhythm does not have to be constant, of course, but can vary greatly from verse to verse. However, if the rhythm of a verse is constant or has certain patterns, these can be described by the meter (→ meter).

Several verses form a stanza, which enables a clear division into lyrical texts. Although there is modern lyric poetry that tries to break these patterns, in principle we can speak of a uniform design.

Note: The word verse is derived from Latin (versus, from vertere) and means something like "turn around" (of the plow), "turn" or "turn".

Hardcover in verse

In contrast to works in prose, the verse has a bound speech. This means that the verse is tied to rules of rhythm, sound or structure and does not simply appear as running text, such as a typical short story (→ rhyme scheme, features of the short story).

To make the difference clear, let's take the first stanza from Heinrich Heine's as an exampleThe brown rats approach, which is formed from four verses.

There are two types of rats:
The hungry and full.
The full stay happy at home,
But the hungry emigrate.

We might notice that the given form of the verse provokes a reading. We stop at the end of each line of verse and then read the next verse.

This effect is of course achieved by the line break, which also underlines the pair rhyme of the work and is just as conditional. Let us imagine that Heine had not put the verses in a stanza, but simply put them in two separate sentences.

There are two types of rats: hungry and full. The full stay happily at home, but the hungry emigrate.

If the structure is now broken open and the sentences are read as body text, there are still limits due to punctuation(Period, comma, colon), but the pair rhyme of the work is less important and as a result, of course, our reading also changes.

We can name this aspect as a big difference between bound (verse) and unbound (prose) texts, whereby the poem can of course open up very different leeway, which can be exciting in a poem interpretation. Because why was a verse broken at this point, why not a word later?

Meter and verse

A line of verse within a poem usually consists of several syllables. Two syllables form a verse foot that describes the meter (→ meter) of a poem. The most common verse feet are probably iambus and trochaeus, in which unstressed and stressed syllables alternate.

Verses are named differently in German studies due to the number of their feet. Assuming that the smallest metric unit is the foot of the verse, which consists of two syllables, it would look like this: xx ’. That would be an iambus, by the way.

Note: Stressed and unstressed syllables are usually identified according to this scheme. x stands for an unstressed syllable in the verse and x ‘for a stressed one. The division into xX is also common, with the capital letter standing for the stressed syllable.

Designation of the verses based on their feet
  • Monometer: If a verse consists of only one foot of the verse, it is described as a monometer. It therefore consists of at least two syllables.
  • Dimeter: Is a line of verse that is formed from two feet of verse and therefore contains at least four syllables.
  • Trimeter: There are three feet of verse in a single line, i.e. at least six syllables that make up the verse.
  • Tetrameter: Consists of four feet of verse within a single line of verse, with eight syllables making up the verse.
  • Pentameter: Consists of five feet of verse within a single verse. So we are dealing with ten syllables per line of verse. (Note: applies especially to ancient metrics, see: Pentameter)
  • hexameter: Believes that a verse is made up of six feet of verse. The hexameter is one of the essential verses of ancient poetry, and entire works were written in this form.

Note: A special form of the hexameter is the alexandrine, which is made up of six iambic verse feet. However, the ancient hexameter is written exclusively in dactyls, which is why a strict distinction is made in some scientific treatises.

If the verse doesn't "come up"

We have made a subdivision into monometer, dimeter, trimeter etc. and described in advance that a verse foot consists of at least two syllables. Now, of course, it can happen that a verse is made up of an odd number of syllables.

If the last verse is therefore not “complete”, one usually speaks of one catalectic verse. However, if the foot of the verse is "complete", this is called akatalectic designated.

If the verse is shortened by a foot of verse, i.e. two syllables, one speaks of one brachycatalectic verse (half complete). However, if it is one or more syllables too long, this is called hypercatalectic (redundant) designated.

Note: This last section is not relevant for regular German lessons and only needs to be learned in the rarest of cases. At most, it is important that we know that some schemes and rules do not work in every poem and still have a uniform meter.