On the poem extract below I noticed the following technique and it sounded really familiar, reminding me of punk rock songs and some strong man speeches (I know this is super vague, if I remember any examples I'll link them in the comments). This technique consists of a metric progression of long verses to short verses culminating with a one or two syllable verse, this happens from verses 1 to 5 below, then this is followed by same metric length verses with Anaphoras, in this case it's an anaphora with "the". Does anyone know if this has a name?

1 Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

2 I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size

3 But when I start to tell them,

4 They think I’m telling lies.

5 I say,

6 It’s in the reach of my arms,

7 The span of my hips,

8 The stride of my step,
-Phenomenal Woman, by: Maya Angelou

  • 1
    try music Stack Exchange? Or writing.SE? Not every question that has, hopefully, a single word answer makes a good question for ELU. Good luck though!
    – vectory
    Commented Oct 16, 2019 at 19:40
  • @vectory Well I have and nothing's come up, so now I'm offering a bounty Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 17:49
  • This doesn't answer your question, rather it's a description of how line 5 works for me. When I speak the poem I tend to break the first two lines roughly in half, this isn't deliberate, the stress and the sense make me do it. The result is all the lines are roughly the same length except "I say," and I think what happens is I insert a pause in it to lengthen the line which I think gives it its strength. My $.02.
    – Al Maki
    Commented Oct 20, 2019 at 21:24

4 Answers 4


There is no single descriptor for what you're asking. Instead, writers might indicate repetition of short lines that create a turn or pivot in the stanza.

The most prominent pattern is repetition (source) at the level of utterance:

  • "I say" performing a turn or pivot or contrast in each stanza from what others say and what the speaker says
  • "I’m a woman / Phenomenally. / Phenomenal woman, / That’s me." ending the self-directed speech and the stanza.

As for the changes in line length, especially with "I say," one could describe the break of pattern (turn/pivot/contrast) as a short line (if the other lines are normally longer) or a long line (if the other lines are usually short). This vocabulary filters into descriptions of line length:

The short, irregular lines of John Burnside's 'De Humanis Corporis Fabrica' mirror the slow accumulation of various bodily details in the poem. (https://www.poetryarchive.org/glossary/line)

Long lines are oceanic. They wash over you like waves, one after another, each of them full of shells and sand and fish and surfboards, sometimes pieces of wrecks and the bodies of sailors. The long line is more conclusive and inclusive than the partial, subdivided short line. If short lines are like quick pants, long lines resemble great, deep breathes. (https://poets.org/text/whitmans-long-lines)

And an example from the Victoria and Albert Museum describing a similarly-structured poem, "Things Men Have Made" by D.H. Lawrence:

The most obvious device here is the repetition, with variation: 'men have made', 'men who made'. These phrases occur at the beginning and end of the poem, with a single syllable before the first occurrence and after the second. They balance each other, emphasising a balance between the first two lines and the last two, between the first sentence or proposition of Lawrence's statement and the second, which echoes it and develops it further. The whole poem pivots around the very short line in the middle, 'for long years'.

  • This is not free verse. It is a poem that switches from iambic meter (with varying length lines) to triple meter (with varying length lines) in a regular way. Poems which have varying length iambic lines are not free verse. See Wordsworth's Intimation of Immortality Poems that switch from iambic to triple meter are not free verse. See Auden's O Tell Me the Truth about Love. This poem isn't, either. Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 16:28
  • Help me out here: what is the regular pattern you've found, and how does it persist between stanzas? I certainly do find iambs and anapests in my own scanning of the poem, but so far it doesn't appear regular. In contrast, Wordsworth's Ode is in blank verse (with varying line length) and Auden's O Tell Me... has alternating stanzas of regular form. (I will also note that some scholars have described Wordsworth's varied blank verse as "free verse," though they're far more formalist than I am.) Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 16:57
  • Before "I say" the number of lines, line lengths, and scans change from stanza to stanza. I'll grant that the parts before "I say" are often variations on iambic (even "Just as cool as you please," which could be read as a headless iamb followed by an iamb and followed by an anapest), and the parts afterwords use more anapests, albeit also with much variation. So as to not get into an ancillary debate about whether that's free verse, I'll delete the mention. Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 17:19
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    Each verse starts out with iambic lines (of varying lengths), which can be rearranged into three long rhyming lines (of less varying lengths). These are followed by "I say", which is in turn followed by four mainly anapestic lines, followed by a repeated refrain, also predominantly in a triple meter). I think this is much too regular to be called free verse, although there certainly isn't any name for this meter. Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 20:39
  • @PeterShor Thank you. I'd caught the iambs, but not the rhyme. :) Histories of free verse would probably highlight it as on the way to free verse, but I now agree with your comment. Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 12:40

According to the link I provided below:

"There is a varied meter (metre in UK) in this poem, a mix of trochee and iamb with anapaest. The underlying beat in some lines is iambic, the well known da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM beat, the most common in English poetry."



I dont know about punk rock songs and some strong man speeches but I have found two links although with varied answers though with reasonable explanations.

SRC 1 : Wikibookpage - This page was last edited on 16 September 2019, at 14:36.

Let’s start with the form of the poem.

  • The poem is like a ballad, it is a free verse narrative. There are no conventional rhymes, just some sporadically important ones.

  • The persona speaks directly in a personal voice(first person
    singular). The poem seems to have a refrain – four last lines in every stanza are the same. It is something that is very often used in poems and songs. Angelou could have been inspired by her background in dance as the poem seems to have some musical aspect (there is a set rhyme scheme and the refrain).

SRC 2 : Owlcation (As mentioned by A Student in the first answer) Updated on August 21, 2019

There is a varied meter (metre in UK) in this poem, a mix of trochee and iamb with anapaest. The underlying beat in some lines is iambic, the well known da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM beat, the most common in English poetry. For example:

  • But when I start to tell them/They think I'm telling lies.
    And others have trochaic followed by iambic:
  • When you see me passing,/It ought to make you proud. Still, others are iambic preceding anapaestic:
  • The bend of my hair,/the palm of my hand,/The need for my care.

This variable rhythm, together with contrasting short and long vowels, make this a particularly interesting poem to read out loud and to listen to.

Also, It would be helpful if you take into consideration the fact that poems are an expression of the thought-process of the poet. It is the presentation of that his/her's view of the muse of that particular poem expressed in pithy words. So, even poems with a well-defined overall metric pattern often have a few lines that violate that pattern.

SRC : Metre Variations, Wiki

I think the above fact is not done intentionally rather its the best way to express with minimum violations of the rhythm metre system. Similarly, with the above poem, I think the poet's thoughts were best enunciated using the above set of rhythm meters - a beautiful mix of trochee and iamb along with semblances of anapaest.



Angelou repeats a pattern, which helps to reinforce a message, similar to lyrics of a song.

"I say" connects the first part of each stanza with the second and focuses on the speaker. Immediately following is a repeated mantra-like list. The final lines drive home that the woman is special, becoming an anthem for the personal "me".

  • Can you provide sources? I'm having a hard time looking this up myself Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 19:43
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    Wait is "anthem" the technique or "repeating a pattern"? I'm looking for answers that give me terminology Commented Oct 20, 2019 at 10:38
  • See the sections "Rhythm and Meter" and "Repetition" at owlcation.com/humanities/…
    – Jouborg
    Commented Oct 20, 2019 at 21:02

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