Scansion is the process of analyzing and marking the metrical patterns of a poem. It involves identifying and categorizing the stressed and unstressed syllables within each line, determining the poetic feet, and overall understanding the rhythmic structure of the verse. This practice helps reveal the poem’s meter, contributing to the reader’s understanding of its intended rhythm and musicality.

Here are the basic steps for scansion:

  1. Identify the Meter: Determine the overall meter of the poem. Common meters include iambic, trochaic, anapestic, dactylic, spondaic, and pyrrhic.
  2. Analyze the Feet: Break down each line into metrical feet. Common feet include iambs (unstressed followed by stressed), trochees (stressed followed by unstressed), anapests (two unstressed followed by a stressed), dactyls (stressed followed by two unstressed), spondees (two stressed), and pyrrhics (two unstressed).
  3. Mark the Stresses: Use symbols or notation to mark the stressed (accented) and unstressed (unaccented) syllables in each foot. Common symbols include (/) for a stressed syllable and (˘) or (⏑) for an unstressed syllable.
  4. Indicate the Feet: Label the type of foot for each metrical unit in a line. For example, if a line is primarily iambic pentameter, mark each foot as an iamb.
  5. Consider Variations: Be aware of variations and deviations from the established meter, as poets often use these intentionally to create emphasis, surprise, or rhythmic effects.

Here’s a simple example of scansion for an iambic pentameter line:

Original line: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”



˘ / ˘ / ˘ / ˘ / ˘ / ˘ Shall I | com-PARE | thee TO | a SUM- | mer's DAY?

In this example, each foot is an iamb, and there are five iambs, making it iambic pentameter. Scansion is a useful tool for understanding a poem’s rhythm and meter, helping readers appreciate the deliberate choices made by the poet in crafting the verse.