What is the difference between meter and rhythm in poetry? The explanations found from googling were highly confusing.
There are situations where they mean the same thing.
But rhythm is the general term, applying to all speech, in every language, as well as sounds in general, provided the sounds are continuous or repetitive, and show some pattern in their continuity or repetition. Music is a good example; it has rhythms, but no meter.
Meter, on the other hand, in the sense intended (there are plenty of others), applies strictly to poetry (or vocal song), and refers to certain specific repetitive patterns of syllables, in a particular language.
Languages vary a lot in how meter works in their poetry. Stress-timed languages like English tend towards rhythms that exploit the "stress group" -- syllables between major stresses -- as in Longfellow's famous
- One if by
- land, and
- two if by
- sea, and
- I on the
- shore will
- be ..
On the other hand, syllable-timed languages like Latin, French, or Japanese tend to count syllables, distinguishing (as in Latin or Greek) between "heavy" syllables, which end with a consonant, or contain phonetically long vowels or diphthongs, and "light" syllables, ending in a short vowel. Patterns of these are also "meter", and the traditional Greek names that mplungjan mentioned were developed by ancient Greeks to describe their poetry.
Meter in syllable-timed language doesn't sound like poetry to speakers of stress-timed languages. For example, while Classical Latin was syllable-timed, and had distinctive long and short vowels, Medieval Latin was stress-timed, and did not retain vowel length distinctions, so Classical poetry is quite different from Medieval.
Virgil's Aeniad (composed in the first century BC) has the following first lines,
- Arma virumque canō Trōiae qui primus ab ōris
- Ītaliam fātō profugus Lāvīnaque vēnit
- lītora - multum ille et terrīs iactātus et altō
- vī superum saevae memorem Iūnōnis ob īram,
- multa quoque et bellō passus, dum conderet urbem
- īnferretque deōs Latiō—genus unde Latīnum
- Albānīque patrēs atque altae moenia Rōmae.
which somehow don't feel like they're in meter, the way a Medieval Latin poem like "In Taverna" does, even though they both have strictly-regular meter.
- In taverna quando sumus, non curamus quid sit humus
- sed ad ludum properamus, cui semper insudamus.
Of course, the fact that end rhyme wasn't invented until the first few centuries AD helps make this sound like poetry.
The point is that poetic meter is specific, and varies between languages, and may not sound metric to speakers of other languages; while rhythm is far more general, extending even to human contraception.
Rhythm describes in general the patterns of stressed and unstressed, or long and short, syllables found in language, and especially in verse. Metre describes the particular kinds of rhythm found in verse, for example, an anapaestic tetrameter (four repetitions in a line of the pattern ‘dum-dum-DUM’) or an iambic pentameter (five repetitions in a line of the pattern ‘dum-DUM’).
Seems very clear that rhythm and meter/metre are interchangeable
In poetry, metre (meter in American English) is the basic rhythmic structure of a verse or lines in verse.
English poetry employs five basic rhythms of varying stressed (/) and unstressed (x) syllables. The meters are iambs, trochees, spondees, anapests and dactyls. In this document the stressed syllables are marked in boldface type rather than the tradition al "/" and "x." Each unit of rhythm is called a "foot" of poetry.
Metre produces rhythm, i.e. the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables is the metre and the music resulted from this pattern is called rhythm.