What's the meter of the poem "Song of Young Girl" by William Lang? The first three stanzas are:

Softly I walk through the forest
The owl sleeps in the thicket
I hear the voice of the lake before me

The lake it speaks to me of good fortune
The lake it speaks to me of long life
The lake it speaks to me of a holy truth

The fox and deer they stand beside me
All manner of animals stand beside me
I am not afraid

For the whole poem, see Playwrights of Color, p. 300.

  • I added the author. I also took the liberty of correcting the text, which seemed to have become corrupted. It was also published in South Dakota Review vol. 12 (1974), p. 114 which you can see in Google Books but it only has snippet view. Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 20:58
  • @GarethRees I can't see the South Dakota Review. Is the entire play in that magazine, or just this piece? If the latter, does it have the title "Song of Young Girl"? That seems awkward and ungrammatical to me.
    – verbose
    Commented Jun 3, 2021 at 6:41
  • South Dakota Review has two poems by Lang, "Song at End of Day" (p. 113) and "Song of Young Girl" (p. 114). Both have the same text as in the play Pow Wow, except for the punctuation. Commented Jun 3, 2021 at 7:40
  • I rather like the version ChocolateChapta originally posted, too. I wonder where that came from? Was it from memory, or maybe a translated version?
    – A. B.
    Commented Jun 3, 2021 at 10:15
  • @A.B. The changes are suggestive of memorization. See discussion of the phenomenon in this answer. Commented Jun 3, 2021 at 11:23

1 Answer 1


These free verse lines do not adhere to any specific number of feet, nor to any regular distribution of stressed and unstressed syllables. So the poem is not in any regular meter.

The opening line suggests a catalectic dactylic trimeter:

|   /  x x     /     x     x     /   x
| Softly I | walk through the | forest |

But the subsequent lines quickly dispel any notion that this poem is metrically regular. Neither the number of stresses nor their pattern is uniform from one line to the next.

|  x   /       /    x  x  |   /  x  |
| The owl | sleeps in the | thicket |

| x   /     x    /      x  x    /     x  /   x |
| I hear | the voice | of the lake | before me |

The first three lines themselves have dactylic (Softly I), iambic (I hear), anapestic (of the lake), and trochaic (thicket) feet, with an amphibrach (before me) thrown in for good measure. And while the first two lines have three stresses each, the third line has four. Such variable feet and irregular line lengths are a feature of the entire poem.

As a result of this unpredictability, some if not most of the lines can be scanned in multiple ways. For example, there is no obvious justification for preferring either of these ways of scanning line 7 to the other:

|   /  /      x   x  /    x  x     /     x  /   x |
| All man- | ner of a- | nimals stand | beside me |


|   /   /     x   x   / x   x    /     x      /   x |
| All man- | ner of | animals | stand be- | side me |

The stresses are distributed too unevenly for any pattern to be discerned.

This is unsurprising in a late 20th century work. Like most writers after the First World War, the poet has chosen open form rather than closed form. Instead of metrical patterning, this lyric relies on repetition and cadence for its poetic effects. Subjecting it to prosodic analysis is beside the point.

  • 1
    There's also a large amount of grammatical parallelism in this poem, which also contributes to the poetic effects. While it's present throughout the poem, this might be most obvious in the three lines late in the poem: "Lightning of black thunder. // Wind of snow winter. // Dancing shadows of night."
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Jun 3, 2021 at 18:10

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