An Ear for Poetry: The Knottiness of a Prevalent Metaphor


The question occurred to me early in my literary studies: how could I, Rachel, have any sort of ear for poetry? I was deaf. Stumbling through the syllabic feet of poetic meter felt like tripping and falling down the stairs. I loved the lyrical artistry of poets such as John Donne, William Wordsworth, and Elizabeth Bishop. But would I ever find poetry fully accessible?

Listen for it: with those words, a good half-dozen high school English teachers and, later, college professors explained how I should approach meter. They described stressed and unstressed syllables and metrical patterns based on auditory quality. "Do you hear that? Do you hear the rhythm of the line?" I did not. How could I?

Read the full essay on the Poetry Foundation website.