number of syllables in "power" (poetry)

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TheCrociato91

Senior Member
Italian - Northern Italy
Hello everyone.

I'm currently analizing Emily Dickinson's My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun. It is written in common meter (or common measure), which is a meter consisting of quatrains alternating iambic tetrameters (four-foot verses) and iambic trimeters (three-foot verses).

The last stanza, however, has got me a bit stumped because of the word "power", which according to dictionaries (such as the American Heritage Dictionary, to which I usually resort in order to find out how many syllables a word has got) is made up of 2 syllables. If this were the case, then the two last lines would not scan just like the rest of the lines (that is, they would have one more syllabe and that would also mess up the iambic rhythm).

Though I than He – may longer live
He longer must – than I
For I have but the power to kill,
Without – the power to die

In the stanza I highlighted the iambic rhythm by leaving the unstressed syllables in light and marking the stressed syllabes in bold. I also underlined "power" which is the confusing bit; in order to scan, it should comprise a single stressed syllable.

My question is: can "power" be considered as having only one syllable in poetry? Or are the two last lines simply irregular?

Thank you in advance for any help.
 
  • Chasint

    Senior Member
    English - England
    If you are familiar with music notation, you will know that two quavers have the combined length of a crotchet. Whether you say power as one or two syllables, the length of the word is the same.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    There are certain accents where it's pronounced /pɑ:/, identically to par or pah.

    But also, don't forget that English prosody isn't syllabic but stress-based. This is what leads to what Chasint refers to in #4. Whether this is a case of it I doubt, but it's perfectly possible for a line to have extra syllables and still the correct number of stresses.

    With out the pow er to die.
    With out the pa'r to die.

    The syllables er and to are unstressed, and don't interrupt the rhythmical flow in either case.
     
    Last edited:

    TheCrociato91

    Senior Member
    Italian - Northern Italy
    Well, that was extremely quick. :D
    Thanks everyone for your comments.

    If you are familiar with music notation, you will know that two quavers have the combined length of a crotchet. Whether you say power as one or two syllables, the length of the word is the same.
    No, I'm not familiar with music notation. But that's good to know, I'll keep that in mind.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I would say that power is standardly one syllable in poetry. It's a word that is common in hymns too, and it's always one syllable (4 iambs here: All hail the power of Jesus' name ...).

    In British style IPA, it's represented as a triphthong: /ˈpaʊə/, and in speech it might be simplified to /ˈpaə/. I certainly do that. Keith's /pɑ:/ is supposed to represent upper-class British accents.
     

    TheCrociato91

    Senior Member
    Italian - Northern Italy
    I would say that power is standardly one syllable in poetry
    That's interesting. Maybe I should refer to a different dictionary. Possibly one showing syllable divisions for poetry. :D

    But also, don't forget that English prosody isn't syllabic but stress-based. This is what leads to what Chasint refers to in #4. Whether this is a case of it I doubt, but it's perfectly possible for a line to have extra syllables and still the correct number of stresses.

    With out the pow er to die.
    With out the pa'r to die.

    The syllables er and to are unstressed, and don't interrupt the rhythmical flow in either case.
    @Keith Bradford
    Sorry, I didn't see the edited part at first. You're right, I've got the bad habit of treating English poetry as if it were Italian, that is, by counting the number of syllables instead of the number of stresses. Thanks for pointing it out.
     
    Last edited:
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