Sprung rhythm: A type of meter, developed by nineteenth-century English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins to imitate the rhythm of speech, in which the number of stressed syllables in a line is constant but the number of unstressed syllables varies. In sprung rhythm, each of the stressed syllables must occur as the first syllable of a foot, with each foot typically containing a total of one to four syllables. Accordingly, sprung rhythm may have four types of feet: the monosyllabic (´), trochee (´ ˘), dactyl (´ ˘ ˘), and first paeon (´ ˘ ˘ ˘).
Hopkins, who described his system of prosody in an “Author’s Preface” (1883) posthumously published in Poems (1918), considered himself more the theorist than the inventor of sprung rhythm. Indeed, he deemed sprung rhythm “the most natural of things … the rhythm of common speech and of written prose,” reflected in works ranging from William Langland’s Piers Plowman (1366—87) to choruses, nursery rhymes, and “weather saws.” Some critics, however, have disagreed, as Paull F. Baum did in “Sprung Rhythm” (1959), viewing it “not [as] a modification or extension of conventional verse” but as a “new creation,” Hopkins’s “own blend of the freedom of prose and the ordered patterns of verse.”
EXAMPLE: Hopkins’s “The Windhover” (1918) (the marks identifying stressed syllables are the poet’s own):
I caúght this mórning mórning’s mi̇́nion, ki̇́ng-
dom of dáylight’s dáuphin, dapple-dáwn-drawn Fálcon, in his ri̇́ding
Of the rólling level únderneáth him steady ai̇́r, and stri̇́ding… .