Traditionally, poetry in English is marked by a special cadence or rhythm of the language used known as meter. For this purpose every syllable is said to be either stressed or unstressed. The meter consists of the repetition of metrical units known as feet: an iamb, for instance, is a foot consisting of an unstressed followed by a stressed syllable. The most common line of poetry in English is the iambic pentameter, that is, a line consisting of five iambs. It is almost possible to resolve the lines of Heaney’s ‘‘Follower’’ into lines of iambic quadrameter (lines with four iambs), though with a few oddly placed pentameter lines. Given the overwhelmingly iambic character of ordinary spoken English, however, it seems more likely that Heaney is using more contemporary techniques of composition and abandoning meter as an element of the poem. He does use some metrical effects; for example, the last stanza of the poem describes awkward lurching motions and is heavy with trochees, or feet consisting of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable, to suggest the unnatural movements.
Abab Rhyme Scheme
Rhyme was a native characteristic of Arabic poetry that was introduced during the Middle Ages into French and thence other Western European languages by troubadour poets who moved across the language border between Arabic and the Romance languages in northern Spain. Rhyme consists of having the sound at the end of one line, from the last accented syllable until its end, repeated in another line. Heaney follows this convention quite faithfully, with an abab rhyme scheme in each four-line stanza, meaning the first line rhymes with the third, and the second with the fourth. However, he frequently only rhymes the last syllable, not going back to the last accented syllable, and in many cases only matches long or short vowels rather than using syllables with the same vowels.
Poetry for Students, Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Poetry, Volume 30, Seamus Heaney, Gale Cengage Learning, 2009