Accents in Poetry

What does it really mean to ‘mark the accents’ in poetry? We’ve all been guilty of putting the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLAble from time to time… but who decides exactly which words should be accented in lines of poetry? There are always multitudes of possibilities.

A recent example that has cropped up in a paper is this couplet, shown here with accents marked with upright lines:

|Black cats |red cats

|Cats in all their |hues

Another way of doing this would be:

|Black |cats |red |cats

|Cats in |all their |hues

The above shows 7 accents rather than 4, but this is still completely correct. There are no awkward moments, just frequent and regular accents on sensible words!

In the AMEB, different states have different marking criteria for this type of question. There are usually many variations of acceptable answers. If you have any questions about the way your scansion question has been marked, you should contact your state AMEB office.

And one final word of advice to students… do NOT assume that the number of marks the question is worth equals the amount of accents you’re supposed to mark!

Samantha Coates

Samantha Coates is a professional pianist and teacher with over 25 years experience in both private and group tuition. She is the author and publisher of BlitzBooks, the music education series that has captured the imagination of students across Australia and transformed the teaching of music theory, sight reading and general knowledge.

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