Cadence is the rhythmic rising and falling of a text, and it is especially applicable in poetry. Poets create cadence by making choices about where to start and end lines and where to place punctuation. A smoother, or perfect, cadence is created when the lines end where phrases or sentences end. A half cadence or imperfect cadence is created when the poet chooses to end lines in the middle of sentences and phrases.
From "The Raven," by Edgar Allan Poe:
"Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore-
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
"'Tis some visiter," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door-
Notice the smoother cadence in the first and third lines, which end at the end of a phrase. Also, notice the rougher cadence of the second and fourth lines. The second line ends with a dash. The fourth line, is broken with "I muttered" in the middle of the sentence.
"The Wheelbarrow," by William Carlos Williams
so much depends
a red wheel barrow
glazed with rain
beside the white
This poem is only one sentence, but because it is broken up into several lines, the cadence is imperfect. The imperfect cadence calls attention to the words and makes the reader slow down.
Literary Terms Examples