What Does 'Beats' in Poetry Mean?

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Beats within poetry represent the rhythm, sound, meter and rhyme of the entire piece of poetry. There are many different types of beats the poet can use as well as different types of meters used to write poetry. Rhyme, rhythm, meters and sound are all related to poetic units or poetic beats. Feet are various patterns of accented and unaccented syllables within the lines of a poem. A meter reflects the number of feet within a line.

Rhythm

  • Analyzing the kind of beats that a poem has is in essence to analyze the poem's rhythm. Within a poem, types of beats may include: trimeter, or three beats; tetrameter, or four beats; and pentameter, or five beats. Typically, one type of beat is used at a time. However, some poets choose to mix and match their use of meters, depending on what they are writing.

Meter

  • Poetry written in English language is often made up of poetic units or feet. According to Delia Marshall Turner, PhD., the most commonly used poetic units are the iamb, the trochee, the anapest and the dactyl. Each foot has one stress, or beat. Similar to everyday speech, poetry also repeats the natural intonation, stresses, pauses and beats of conversation.

Sound

  • Sound is very important in poetry. Spoken word is a type of poetry that is primarily performed in front of large audiences, as it was specifically written to be spoken aloud. In keeping with the early history of poetry in which poems were memorized and recited, spoken word poetry is heard rather than read. Beats used within a spoken poem create a specific flow of sound within the piece. Emphasis placed on words and accented syllables within a poem allow for others to recognize the beats.

Rhyme

  • A rhyme occurs when words contain similar sounds. Many poets write their poetry so that the rhyming pattern helps to create the beats within the poem. Rhyme is perhaps the most recognizable convention of poetry, but its function is often overlooked. Rhyme helps to unify a poem by repeating a beat or a sound that links one concept to another. Rhyme helps to determine the structure of the poem.

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