British and Irish Literature Prosody and Meter: Twentieth Century
Meredith Martin, Ben Glaser
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 April 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0172


If the 19th century was marked by competing systems, debates about how to write metrical poetry in English and disagreement over how to read and teach that poetry once written, then the 20th century was marked by first an artificial consolidation and subsequent rejection of so-called 19th-century “traditions” by the poets and critics associated with literary modernism and second, a reification of stress on the one hand (via Pound and the increased acceptance of “accentual-syllabic” verse form) and the attempt to measure verse form, in all its valences, scientifically, linguistically, and objectively (though never successfully) on the other. On the literary side, debates about “form” and value cycled throughout the century. On the linguistic side, unseating the false dominance, and abstraction, of stress as the main feature of meter was a main goal. Though overviews, histories, theories, and practical guides presented contrary paths, most focus on an unspoken concept of “the literary” as opposed to “the vernacular.” This bibliography therefore has not included a variety of work relating to particular prosodic traditions (Welsh, Irish, “African American,” Black) nor has it included the robust history of Black poetics, with its complicated relationship to the very terms “English prosody” and “English meter” and the latter’s underlying concepts of meter and rhythm. Indeed Black poetics deserves its own bibliography, as does Native American poetics, quite apart from the often exclusionary critical tradition outlined here.

Overviews and Histories

Overviews and histories of English prosody both develop out of and resist 19th-century models. As is always the case, even overviews and histories contain orientations and debate within; none is without its specific viewpoint. Whereas Brogan 1981, Gross 1979, and Shapiro 1948 (all cited under Meta-studies) each contain headnotes, introductory information, and annotations that highlight both the history and study of poetry, they are each concerned with presenting various viewpoints in addition to pursuing one approach. Histories often provide critical studies within them and critical studies often begin with histories of those who have attempted, but failed, at critical studies. Though less fashionable now, most major poets of the 20th century have at least one study dedicated to the analysis of their prosody.

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