Common Measure

(290 words)
  • John Constable (University of Cambridge)

Literary/ Cultural Context Essay

  • The Literary Encyclopedia. Volume 12: Global Voices, Global Histories: World Literatures and Cultures.

Of all the four-line stanzas (quatrains) the most popular is Common Measure, also known simply as the Ballad Stanza, though some writers may suggest a distinction both in strictness of metrical regularity and in terms of content, the Ballad Stanza being looser and usually a lengthy narrative (this distinction is not widely accepted).

Common Measure is generally written in duple rhythm, either of offbeat-Beat or Beat-offbeat type, with alternating lines of four and three beats, rhyming ABCB. For example:

x /_ x /_ x/_xx_ (A)
Ye choirs of new Jerusalem,

x /_x /_ x/_ (B)
Your sweetest notes employ,

x /_x /_xx_ x /_ (C)
The Paschal victory to hymn

x /_ x /_x /_ (B)

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Constable, John. "Common Measure". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 18 November 2003
[, accessed 04 October 2015.]