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Currently in the process of playing with Limericks and the meter they use usually requires a meter of long followed by two short syllables or vice versa.

My question, how do you differentiate? Is it by ear? I'm a native speaker but my experience with poetry and meters is very lacking.

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Aren't all syllables the same length, one syllable? –  JeffSahol Sep 24 '11 at 0:16
No, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Short_syllable –  TheIrishGuy Sep 24 '11 at 0:22
Sorry, couldn't resist. But "TheIrishGuy" asking for help with a limerick? I am from NC and don't ask for help dropping my g's. –  JeffSahol Sep 24 '11 at 0:26
Don't be shy, @JeffSahol. We can help with that, too. –  onomatomaniak Sep 24 '11 at 6:03
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1 Answer

up vote 6 down vote accepted

It would be better expressed as "Stressed" vs. "Unstressed". Take the classic limerick starter, "There once was a man from Nantucket". When you speak the line, the emphasis naturally falls onto certain syllables:

there ONCE was a MAN from nanTUCKet

which looks like

da DA da da DA da da DA da

which is a nice repeating pattern. If you try to substitute Timbuktu for Nantucket, the pattern of the emphasis is destroyed:

there ONCE was a MAN from TIMbukTU

da DA da da DA da DA da DA

As a native speaker, you should have no trouble determining that "Nantucket" fits the stress pattern called for in the standard limerick form, and "Timbuktu" does not.

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Ok, so by ear. I got it. Appears to be something with experience I should get it. Thanks. –  TheIrishGuy Sep 24 '11 at 0:25
+1 for nice choice of Timbuktu to reverse the stress pattern of Nantucket –  FumbleFingers Sep 24 '11 at 0:30
+1 for NOT finishing the Nantucket limerick –  JeffSahol Sep 24 '11 at 0:52
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