Metric notation

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A metric notation (or the metric symbols used for it ) is used in verse to represent metric schemes . These schemes reflect the regularities of bound language . Depending on what such regularity is based on, there are different verse principles and accordingly different forms of metrical notation:

  • The quantitating verse principle of the ancient, ancient Greek and Latin metrics corresponds to a traditional, very common notation, which mainly reproduces the length and shortness of syllables . It is also used today to represent metric schemes in modern literatures, where the symbol for length (-) corresponds to the uplift and that for shortness (◡) corresponds to the downward trend. Example: -◡◡ represents the metrical foot Daktylus represents.
  • Also in the field of ancient metrics, a simplifying formula notation is common, which uses abbreviations for the common verse feet and uses this abbreviation to reproduce verse measures and stanzas in combination with the number of feet. Example: "da" is an abbreviation for the dactylus, "da 6 " therefore denotes the hexameter consisting of six dactyls .
  • For the accentuating verse principle , especially in older German poetry, a notation developed by Andreas Heusler is widespread, which is strongly based on musical terminology and accordingly divides the verses not according to verse feet, but according to measures.
  • The syllable-counting verse principle corresponds to forms of notation that reproduce a stanza form through the number of syllables in the verse and the rhyme scheme. For the representation of rhyme schemes, another form of notation is widespread that uses the same lowercase letters for rhyming verses in stanzas or poems. Example: aabb would be the notation for a pair of rhyming quatrains.

Ancient notation


The beginnings of metric notation can hardly be separated from the development of reading aids and punctuation. Early evidence of metric marking can already be found in an inscription on the so-called Nestor cup from Ischia from the 8th century BC. However, Aristophanes of Byzantium , an important philologist and head of the library of Alexandria in the 2nd century BC, is considered to be the inventor of both punctuation and metrical notation . Aristophanes was certainly not the first to use such signs, as they are mentioned before, but he is the first whose name is associated with the use of accent marks. The accent marks acute (´) and grave accent (`) go back to him, with which the main or secondary accent is still used in metrics today. The origin of other metric symbols already documented in ancient texts is not known. These include in particular the diacritical mark macron (¯) marking a length and the breve marking (˘). The symbols - and ◡ used in the diagrams today go back to this. Such reading aids essentially only appear in the papyri of the imperial era, in the 1st century BC. A few prosodic aids are attested to.

The line-by-line representation of verses in lyrical texts goes back to Aristophanes, previously these had been written continuously like prose. Next he separated portions by a Paragraphos (short line between the lines), the end of the last verse was measured with a Koronis (⸎; a kind decorated Paragraphos) marked and if a poem in another meter followed, one was Asteriskos (⁜) used .


The symbols used today to represent metric schemes, which go back to the ancient forms of notation, are:

character Surname meaning
- Length / elementum longum usually a long syllable, but can also be broken down into two short syllables
Brevity / elementum breve is always realized by a short syllable
× Ambivalence / elementum anceps long or short single syllable or two short syllables
or ◠ ̣ Indifference / elementum indifferens long or short single syllable
usually short syllable, can also be long
usually long syllable, can also be short
◡◡ elementum biceps usually two short syllables, can also be realized using a long syllable
◡◡ usually long syllable, can also be realized with two short syllables
() two or one short syllable in modern replicas of ancient metrics
aeolian base two syllables, one of which can be short
Anaclase Swap shortness and length (e.g. instead of an iambus )
Exchange of length and shortness (e.g. instead of a trochee )
^ Acephaly at the beginning of the verse
Catalexes at the end of the line
missing element
ˌ Separation of feet or meters, alternatively a point , comma or | be used
 | or ‖  Caesura or diheresis Incision created by the end of a word in the inside of the foot or at the end of the foot
¦ frequent end of words
bridge forbidden word ending
/ or ‖  Send Separation of verses in the body copy , otherwise mostly by newline reproduced
⫽ or End of verse Separation of stanzas in the running text, otherwise mostly reproduced in a new paragraph

The notation is often not uniform, especially for the less common symbols. For example, instead of , the aeolian base is also notated with × and, conversely, anaclase is notated with .

Sometimes the notation also differentiates between the symbols used in the verse scheme and the symbols used to reproduce the current metric form. However, since - and sind are generally sufficient to reproduce the lengths and abbreviations in a verse and the distinction usually arises from the context, no distinction is made in the above table between use in verse scheme and verse shape.

Formula notation

A formula notation has become established to simplify the representation of meter readings, which consists of an abbreviation of the respective meter foot in combination with their ( superscript ) number. The six iambics existing iambic senarius is then calculated asyes 6 or as 6 yeswritten down. There are also abbreviations for meter and verse, where the number given relates to the number of syllables, so isalc 9the Alkaean Enneasyllabus .

Formula notation can also be used to describe stanza forms. So describes

alc 11 / alc 11 / alc 9 / alc 10

the scheme of the Alkaean stanza ,

there 6 / since 5

the elegiac distich and

yes 5 / yes 5 / yes 5 / yes 5

or abbreviated

× yes 5

the quatrain from iambic five-throwers .

The following abbreviations are used:

abbreviation Meter foot or meter
ad Adoneus
alc Alkean verse
on Anapaest
ar Archilochius minor (ar mi) or Archilochius maior (ar ma)
as Asclepiadeus minor (as mi) or Asclepiadeus maior (as ma)
ba Baccheus
cho Chorus iamb
cr Creticus
there dactyl
diph Diphilius
dis Distich
el Elegiambus
ga Galljambus
gl Glyconus
hem Hemiepes
ia Iambus
ok Ionicus
ith Ithyphallicus
phal Phalakeus (eleven-syllable Aeolian verse)
pher Pherekrateus
pr Priapeus
r Charmian verse r vor irritian colon r c
sa Saturnians
sapph Sapphicus
tr trochee
wil Wilamowitzianus
x Single syllable

The number of feet can be supplemented or replaced by further abbreviations for special metric shapes. So called aboutyes 4ca catalectic iambic quaternar .

Abbreviation meaning
c or ^ catalectic
d Dimeter
mi a minor
ma a maiore
q Tetrameter
t Trimeter

In the case of meter readings that have different shapes, the corresponding number can be readjusted. For example, would the second glyconic withgl2be noted. Preceding or superscripting the number can lead to confusion, as the number of repetitions of a metric form is also noted in this way.

In the case of the filling-free verse forms of the older German language levels, such as Middle High German , often only the number of accents and the cadence are noted, possibly in connection with the rhyme scheme. As an example the stanza scheme of the Bernertons :

4ma 4ma 3wb 4mc 4mc 3wb 4md 3we 4md 3we 4mf 3wx 3mf

That is, the first verse is a four-lifter with a male cadence (4m), the third verse is a three-lifter with a female cadence (3w) and the rhyme scheme (the third letter in each case) aab ccb dede fxf. The cadence is includedm (male), w (female) or r (richly) noted.

Accent notation

In German and other modern languages, the accented verse principle applies to the metric, i.e. instead of length and shortness as in the quantitative metric of the Greeks and Romans, the alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables is decisive. Many feet of verse that are possible in quantifying metrics therefore practically do not occur. For example, two stressed syllables can be placed next to each other, but

  • either it follows from the rhythm of the verse that one is emphasized over the other
  • or there is a clear cut between the two syllables, which is to be represented in the meter as a diheresis or verse border.

Conversely, a sequence of more than two unstressed syllables rarely occurs, since a longer sequence of weak syllables is given a secondary accent.

Accordingly, one could greatly simplify the representation of metric schemes in German and similar languages ​​and only differentiate between stressed and unstressed or mark accent and possibly secondary accent. In the 19th century, therefore, the ancient notation was first adopted and the length symbol was used - for stressed syllables and the abbreviation symbol ◡ for unstressed syllables, which is still practiced today.

Alternatively, the ancient practice of marking long vowels or ictus in the text with apex has been adopted , and stressed syllables are marked with an acute accent above the syllable vowel:

My heart struck. Quickly, to Pférde!
And continue, wild as a hero to slaughter.

In an abstract way, Friedrich Kauffmann , Wolfgang Kayser and others then represented each syllable by an "x", with the main accent marked by an acute accent and the secondary accent by a grave accent . In the example this would result:

x x́ x x́ x x́ x x́ x / x x́ x x́ x x́ x x́

Ulrich Pretzel then represented an even simpler increase by "X" and decrease by "x". For example:

x X x X x X x X x / x X x X x X x X.

Heusler's notation

The notation used by Andreas Heusler in his monumental, three-volume Deutsche Versgeschichte is superficially similar, but with a completely different underlying approach, which is still widely used today , especially in the area of German medieval studies and especially in studies of Middle High German metrics .

In accordance with the measure metrics he developed, Heusler does not structure the verse according to verse feet, as was customary up to then, but - similar to the measure in music - according to measures of the same overall length, which always begin with an emphasis. The bar-filling syllables are assigned different lengths with corresponding note values , whereby a normal syllable has the length of a mora , which corresponds to a quarter note and is represented by x. The main accent is marked by an acute accent (x́) and the secondary accent by a grave accent (x̀). Since a bar always begins with an uplift, lowerings at the beginning of the verse form an upbeat , the last two bars form the cadence and the rest of the verse the interior .

Heusler's notation uses the following characters:

character Note value Moren meaning
└───┘ 1 4th Four quarters
└──╴ 3/4 3 Three quarters
── 1/2 2 Two quarters
x. 3/8 3/2 Three-eighth
x 1/4 1 quarter
1/8 1/2 eighth
1/16 1/4 Sixteenths
indefinite syllable
^ 1/4 1 paused quarter
 |  Clock limit
 ‖  Send
. |  monosyllabic prelude
.. |  two-syllable prelude
Quarter syllable with main accent
Quarter syllable with a minor accent

The well-known first verse of Goethe's Faust

You are approaching again, swaying figures [...]

would be noted in moving two-quarter time according to Heusler as follows:

x | x́ x | x́ x | x́ x | x̀ x | x́ x ‖ 

Syllable-counting verse schemes

In the syllable-counting verse principle , the verse is determined by:

  • the number of syllables
  • Stressed syllable positions in the verse, where x́ marks a (obligatory) stressed and x marks an unstressed or free syllable
  • Position of an (obligatory) caesura
  • male or female cadence
  • Form of entanglement of verses in rhyme

If alternation applies, i.e. regular alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables, then only two rhythmic realizations are possible for an eight-syllable verse, namely

xx́xx́xx́xx́ (increasing)


x́xx́xx́xx́x (falling).

Often, however, the meter does not completely determine the rhythm, for example the endecasilabo a minore only specifies stresses on the 4th and 10th of 11 syllables:


Such a meter allows different rhythms, whereby stressed and unstressed syllables in the rhythm can then also be notated through - and ◡. In the case of the Endecassilabo, a caesura is required after the first obligatory intonation, so one has, for example, as possible rhythmizations:

  • ◡ — ◡ — ◡ ‖ —◡ — ◡ — ◡ (pure iambic)
  • —◡◡ — ◡◡ ‖ —◡◡ — ◡ (dactylic)
  • —◡◡ — ◡ ‖ —◡ — ◡ — ◡ (dactylic-trochaic)
  • etc.

The change in rhythm in the poem results in a lively, varied speech rhythm in contrast to the monotony of pure alternation.

Rhyme scheme

The rhyme scheme is made up of lowercase lettersa, b, cetc., where rhyming verses correspond to the same letters. For example, a cross rhyming quatrain would go through[abab]reproduce or a known rhyme scheme of the sonnet by[abba abba cdc dcd]. Non-rhyming verses are usually through in the rhyme schemew (for "orphan", another name for a non-rhyming verse) or better through x reproduced there w can be confused with the designation of cadence, which with m for male and w for female cadence is noted.

An iambic, cross-rhymed quatrain with 8 or 9 syllables per verse can therefore be completely noted as:

8ma / 9wb / 8ma / 9wb

If the iambic rhythm is known, that's enough

8a / 9b / 8a / 9b


8a 9b 8a 9b.

If only the rhyme scheme is to be reproduced without specifying the number of syllables and cadence, you simply write down [abab].


As far as the representation of the special symbols used in metric notation in the text is concerned, the symbols of ancient notation in particular are not included in standard fonts. In a typographically simplified way of writing, the hyphen “-” is therefore often used to represent accentuated syllables and (due to the visual similarity with ◡) the letter “v” for unstressed syllables.

In Unicode , the following symbols of ancient metric notation are defined in the Unicode block Various technical characters :

Codepoint HTML character Surname
U + 23D1 & # x23D1; METRICAL BREVE

However, the support of the corresponding glyphs in the fonts usually installed on computers is poor, so if a suitable font is not installed, replacement characters will be seen in the above list in the "Characters" column instead of the metric symbols .

Fonts that support the metric symbols from Unicode block 2300 are:


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. See e.g. BCMJ Sicking: Greek verse teaching . Munich 1993, p. 3f.
  2. ^ Johann Wolfgang Goethe : Welcome and Farewell. v. 1f.
  3. ^ Friedrich Kauffmann: German metrics according to their historical development. 3rd edition Elwert, Marbach 1912.
  4. ^ Wolfgang Kayser: Small German verse school. Francke, Bern 1946, with numerous subsequent editions.
  5. Goethe Faust. A tragedy. Appropriation. v. 1, online
  7. Archived copy ( Memento of the original from December 18, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /