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I like metric poetry, and sometimes I want to broaden my horizons by learning a new poetic meter. This has proven quite difficult, because the descriptions in many guides are quite terse. For example, the Wikipedia article on Latin prosody contains useful information, but the depth is insufficient for my purpose.

To get a feeling of how a meter works and to make it flow naturally, I require lots of examples. I would like the examples to contain macrons, and also commentary when something metrically noteworthy happens. A list of poems written in a particular meter can also be helpful, since the poems can then be easily found. I would also like to be able to listen to recordings of some examples. That would allow me to get a grip of the rhythm by imitating the recordings. It would be nice to know the typical use contexts of a given meter to develop an understanding of the tone.

I am not sure if there is a resource that provides all I hope for. However, I do hope that there are resources that would help me learn. I would really like to be able to read and write fluently in more meters than I do now. I enjoy reading metric poetry much more when I can feel the meter — I cannot describe what this feeling really means, but I hope my point is clear enough. Can you suggest some resources for this purpose?

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It takes a long time to master Latin poetry, and a lot of practice in reading before you can attempt to write it. The metrical schemes are not hard to follow, but declaiming the poems as the classical poets intended is just about impossible, since we can only guess at the true sounds.

The big difference from modern European, as you probably know, is that stress on syllables is immaterial to Latin poetry : instead, it is the syllable lengths as they are spoken that are the basis of any metrical scheme. Sometimes — but rarely — the Latin can be read to almost resemble an [English] style, e.g. Catullus IV, which begins:

Phaselus ille, quem videtis, hospites / ait fuisse navium celerrimus

The rules of scansion are not too complicated, but have to be followed closely, especially in the elisions which inevitably occur (they are themselves part of the rules). The seven varieties of metrical foot are composed of long and short syllables in various combinations. Those used in the hexameter are the dactyl (long-short-short, — u u) and the spondee (two long syllables, — —). The use of macrons won't help much, as you will find when you study the rules governing syllable length.

The best, most concise explanation of the rules of prosody which I know is that in Kennedy's Revised Latin Primer (published in the UK by Longman), under the heading PROSODY (articles 471 to 483).

I know of only one modern work on Latin verse composition, found at http://www.anthempress.com/a-guide-to-latin-meter-and-verse-composition though I've not actually seen it.

Finally, to write Latin verse, it's advisable to get hold of a 'Gradus ad Parnassum (sive synonymorum et epithetorum thesaurus)', which is a comprehensive list of words and their epithets and synonyms for which there is a precedent in classical poetry. Such are no longer published, so far as I know, but in the UK they can be found in second-hand bookshops or through specialist book-finders.

I hope that all this helps you, rather than putting you off. I was taught Latin verse composition at school, and find it a very satisfying pastime.

List of poems

You also asked for a list of poems in a particular metre.

The use of syllable quantity instead of stress is very strange to a modern ear that is accustomed only to the latter, and very few manage to master it. It is made more difficult for us by the vagaries of a word order that is specially adapted to produce the required metrical form. For instance, Ovid, Fasti IV, 425 :
Filia consuetis ut erat comitata puellis /errabat nudo per sua prata pede (actually, this is an elegiac couplet — a hexameter followed by a pentameter).

The best place to start is, without question, the hexameter (often called the ‘dactylic hexameter’, though it admits the use of spondees). This is the quintessential metre for Roman poets of the classical period, and examples are abundant and extensive. As well as the Aeneid, they include the Satires and Epistles of Horace. I recommend Horace’s Satires, each of which is self-contained, not over-long and interesting in its own right.

  • Thank you! The sources you suggest look promising. I know mastery takes time and is impossible at the level of some authors, but good study material can significantly increase my fluency. Hexameter and a couple of other meters feel very natural to me, and I read and write with relative ease. (I mean that I can intuitively write technically correct verse that sounds good enough to me.) I hope to achieve something similar with other meters, but learning new ones has been surprisingly difficult. I think and hope your suggestions will help me. – Joonas Ilmavirta Oct 17 '16 at 20:00
  • For the digitally inclined Gradus ad Parnassum is freely available through Google Books: books.google.com/books/about/… – TKR Oct 17 '16 at 21:28

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