Fourteener (poetry)

A Fourteener, in poetry, is a line consisting of 14 syllables, which are usually made of 7 iambic feet for which the style is also called iambic heptameter. It is most commonly found in English poetry produced in the 16th and 17th centuries. Fourteeners often appear as rhymed couplets, in which case they may be seen as ballad stanza or common metre hymn quatrains in two rather than four lines.

The term may also be used as a synonym for quatorzain, a 14-line poem, such as a sonnet.


Poulter's measure is a meter consisting of alternate Alexandrines combined with Fourteeners, to form a poem of 12 and 14 syllable lines. It was often used in the Elizabethan era. The term was coined by George Gascoigne, because poulters, or poulterers (sellers of poultry), would sometimes give 12 to the dozen, and other times 14 (see also Baker's dozen).[1] When the poulter's measure couplet is divided at its caesurae, it becomes a short measure stanza, a quatrain of 3, 3, 4, and 3 feet. Examples of this form are Nicholas Grimald's A Truelove; Lord Brooke's Epitaph on Sir Phillip Sydney; Nicholas Breton's Phyllis in the Oxford Book of Sixteenth Century Verse.[2]

In the early 17th century, George Chapman famously used the fourteener when he produced one of the first English translations of Homer's Iliad. Two centuries later, in his "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer," John Keats expressed his appreciation for what he called the "loud and bold" quality of Chapman's translation, which he implicitly contrasted with the more prestigious but more tightly controlled heroic couplets of Alexander Pope's 18th-century translation, thereby using one type of fourteener (a sonnet) to comment on the other (iambic heptameter).

Samuel Johnson in his Lives of The English Poets comments upon the importance of fourteeners to later English lyric forms saying "as these lines had their caesura always at the eighth syllable, it was thought in time commodious to divide them; and quatrains of lines alternately consisting of eight and six syllables make the most soft and pleasing of our lyric measures".[3] These quatrains of eight and six syllables (or more loosely, lines of 4, 3, 4, and 3 beats) are known as common meter.

C. S. Lewis, in his English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, castigates the 'lumbering' poulter's measure (p. 109). He attributes the introduction of this 'terrible' meter to Thomas Wyatt (p. 224). In a more extended analysis (pp. 231–2), he comments:

The medial break in the alexandrine, though it may do well enough in French, becomes intolerable in a language with such a tyrannous stress-accent as ours: the line struts. The fourteener has a much pleasanter movement, but a totally different one: the line dances a jig.

The poets Surrey, Tuberville, Gascoigne, Balassone, Golding and others all used the Poulter's Measure, the rhyming fourteener with authority.[4]


Who have so leaden eyes, as not to see sweet beauty's show,
Or seeing, have so wooden wits, as not that worth to know?
Now have I brought a work to end which neither Jove's fierce wrath,
Nor sword, nor fire, nor fretting age with all the force it hath
Are able to abolish quite. Let come that fatal hour
Which (saving of this brittle flesh) hath over me no power,
And at his pleasure make an end of mine uncertain time.
Yet shall the better part of me assured be to climb
Aloft above the starry sky. And all the world shall never
Be able for to quench my name. For look how far so ever
The Roman empire by the right of conquest shall extend,
So far shall all folk read this work. And time without all end
(If poets as by prophecy about the truth may aim)
My life shall everlastingly be lengthened still by fame. (Ovid, Metamorphoses 15.984-95, tr. Golding)
Just sit right back and (you'll) hear a tale, a tale of (a) fateful trip
That started from this tropic port, aboard this tiny ship.
Above the ragged reefs they soared, exquisite and serene,
Through slanting shafts of sunlight, tiny jewels of blue and green."
The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville Nine that day;
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play,
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
As I in heavey winter's night stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow.

Poulter's measure

Good ladies, ye that have your pleasure in exile
Step in your foot, come take a place, and mourn with me awhile,
And such as by their lord do set but little price
Let them sit still, it skills them not what chance come on the dice.


  1. Attridge, Derrick. The Rhythms of English Poetry. p.93. Longman: New York
  2. Boultom Marjorie,The Anatomy of Poetry, Routledge&Kegan,London,1953
  3. Johnson, Samuel, Lives of the English Poets-Dryden, 1779 ISBN 0-460-01770-5
  4. Schmidt, Michael, Lives of the PoetsWeidenfeld & Nicholson,The Orion Publishing Group,1998

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