Syllable: the word for the beat in the word. However, nothing is that simple. Some syllables stamp, some just touch down and lift off. There are strong ones and weak ones, stressed and unstressed ones. ‘Syllable’ has 3 syllables: ‘syll’ stamps firmly, while ‘ab’ and ‘le’ tread lightly. Counting syllables is good for haiku, (the three line, 17 syllable Japanese poetic form), but it’s a bad way to measure the beat in a poem.

Listen to this verse taken from a chant made up by a group of children visiting an ancient burial mound by the sea:

‘River, ripple, shiver, quiver,
Apron of the giantess.
Rock, tomb, jag, knife,
Chamber of a thousand bones.’

That’s 8 syllables in the first line, then 7, then 4, then 7. However, there are four stressed beats in every line. The children stamped the floor 4 times for each line as they chanted it. In ‘River, ripple, shiver, quiver’, they stamped only the first syllable of each word. In ‘Rock, tomb, jag, knife’ they stamped all 4 syllables even harder.