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Is it ever okay to use two-syllable words as unstressed in a rhyme or poem? e.g. In this sentence using "pigeon" as two unstressed syllables:

The śmall pigeon rán to the édge of the fórest

I assume that as this is going against the natural emphasis of the word, it is incorrect... however I have seen it done before in top quality rhymes. Can anyone tell me what the rules are?

Thank you!

  • 1
    You have sequential triplets which is why it works. I think yes, it works, but I am not a pro. – DPT Jan 13 '18 at 23:30
  • What are sequential triplets? – Milly Fist Jan 14 '18 at 4:49
  • So using a two syllable word as two unstressed beats doesn't generally work in anapestic tetrameter? – Milly Fist Jan 14 '18 at 4:50
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If it fits the meter it'll be fine - structured poetry (including song lyrics) is more about the delivery of the poem than conventional delivery of the words. You could even abandon conventional syllables (like "crew-el" for "cruel" in "Good King Wenceslas" - though "fyoo-oo-el" was trying a bit too hard).

In this case (and further to DPT's comment) you're seeing :

The small pi / geon ran to / the edge of / the forest

but - as indicated - the meter emphasises the middle syllable, so "pigeon" would be unstressed and "forest" would emphasise the first syllable as normally pronounced :

The small pigeon ran to the edge of the forest

It's worth considering whether the verse might be interpreted dipodically (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2007/11/dipodic-verse) or differently - for example as "the small pigeon / ran to the edge / of the forest" - and whether there's a risk of a Mondegreen (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondegreen), but in this case I don't think there's too much danger of people wondering why a small pea, whose name was John, was running to the edge of the forest.

The line as you've written it looks fine to me.

  • Pronouncing “cruel” and “fuel” with two syllables is not actually an innovation; it’s the original pronunciation (which is why they are spelled with “uel” instead of “ule”). – aer Jan 15 '18 at 16:02
  • Well, now I feel like a fule. – ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere Jan 15 '18 at 16:51
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I don't hear "pigeon" as two unstressed syllables. I hear it as a trochee. So I would scan this line like this:

the SMALL / PI-geon / RAN to the / EDGE of the / FOR-est

So a rising foot at the start but four falling feet after that: iamb. trochee, dactyl, dactyl, trochee.

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