by George J. Dance
For example, in the following lines by Longfellow, the first line has a feminine ending and the second a masculine one.
- Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
- Life is but an empty dream!
The terms "masculine ending" and "feminine ending" are based on French language grammar, in which words of feminine grammatical gender typically end on an unstressed syllable and words of masculine gender on a stressed syllable.
In trochaic verse (like the trochaic tetrameter that Longfellow is using), feet and therefore lines naturally have feminine endings. In contrast, in iambic verse (which makes up most of English-language poetry), line endings are naturally masculine: using a feminine rhyme requires either dropping or adding a syllable.
The most common variation is to add an extra (or "extrametrical") syllable. Lines with (at least) one extra syllable added are called hypercatalectic lines. When an extra syllable is added to a line of iambic pentameter , the result is an 11-syllable (hendecasyllabic) line, as in the opening lines from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales
- Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
- The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
Or these lines from Shakespeare's Sonnet XX:
- A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted,
- Hast thou, the master mistress of my passion ;
- A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
- With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion
- (Shakespeare, Sonnet XX)
- A WO/man’s FACE / with NA/ture’s OWN / hand PAIN/ted
- Hast THOU // the MAS/ter MIS/tress OF / my PASS/ion
- A WO/man’s GEN/tle HEART // but NOT / acQUAIN/ted
- With SHIF/ting CHANGE // as IS / false WOM/en’s FASH/ion
Every line in Sonnet XX has a feminine ending.
Poems often arrange their lines in patterns of masculine and feminine endings, for instance in "A Psalm of Life" by Longfellow (from which the above couplet is taken) odd-numbered lines have feminine endings and even-numbered have masculine ones.
- Feminine endings, Eratosphere.
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