Fourteener (poetry)

A Fourteener, in poetry, is a line consisting of 14 syllables, usually having 7 iambic feet, often used in 16th century English verse. Sometimes it also used to mean a poem of 14 lines, frequently a sonnet.

The seventh song of Philip Sidney's "Astrophel and Stella" is written in rhyming fourteener couplets::Who have so leaden eyes, as not to see sweet beauty's show,:Or seeing, have so wooden wits, as not that worth to know?

Sidney's friend, the translator Arthur Golding, was extremely fond of fourteeners::Now have I brought a work to end which neither Jove's fierce wrath,:Nor sword, nor fire, nor fretting age with all the force it hath:Are able to abolish quite. Let come that fatal hour:Which (saving of this brittle flesh) hath over me no power,:And at his pleasure make an end of mine uncertain time.:Yet shall the better part of me assured be to climb:Aloft above the starry sky. And all the world shall never:Be able for to quench my name. For look how far so ever:The Roman empire by the right of conquest shall extend,:So far shall all folk read this work. And time without all end:(If poets as by prophecy about the truth may aim):My life shall everlastingly be lengthened still by fame. (Ovid, "Metamorphoses" 15.984-95, tr. Golding)

Poulter's measure is a meter consisting of alternate Alexandrines and Fourteeners, i.e. 12 and 14 syllable lines. It was often used in the Elizabethan era. The term was coined by George Gascoigne, because poulters, or poulterers (sellers of poultry), would sometimes give 12 to the dozen, and other times 14 (see also Baker's dozen).

C. S. Lewis, in his "English Literature in the Sixteenth Century", castigates the 'lumbering' poulter's measure (p.109). He attributes the introduction of this 'terrible' meter to Thomas Wyatt (p. 224). In a more extended analysis (pp.231-2), he comments:

"The medial break in the alexandrine, though it may do well enough in French, becomes intolerable in a language with such a tyrannous stress-accent as ours: the line struts. The fourteener has a much pleasanter movement, but a totally different one: the line dances a jig."

William Blake used lines of fourteen syllables, for example in "The Book of Thel".

The iambic heptameter is closely related to the common meter, which breaks the seven-foot line into alternating lines of 4 and 3 feet.

ee also

*Heptameter


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