Dr. Seuss's Meters
Dr. Seuss wrote most of his books in a verse form that in the terminology of metrics would be characterized as anapestic tetrameter, a meter employed also by Byron and other poets of the English literary canon. (It is also the meter of the famous Christmas poem A Visit From St. Nicholas). Abstractly, anapestic tetrameter consists of four rhythmic units (anapests), each composed of two weak beats followed by one strong, schematized below:
x x X x x X x x X x x X
Often, the first weak syllable is omitted, or an additional weak syllable is added at the end. A typical line (the first line of If I Ran the Circus) is:
In ALL the whole TOWN the most WONderful SPOT
Seuss generally maintained this meter quite strictly, up to late in his career, when he was no longer able to maintain strict rhythm in all lines. The consistency of his meter was one of his hallmarks; the many imitators and parodists of Seuss are often unable to write in strict anapestic tetrameter, or unaware that they should, and thus sound clumsy in comparison with the original.
Seuss also wrote verse in trochaic tetrameter, an arrangement of four units each with a strong followed by a weak beat:
X x X x X x X x
An example is the title (and first line) of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. The formula for trochaic meter permits the final weak position in the line to be omitted, which facilitates the construction of rhymes.
Seuss generally maintained trochaic meter only for brief passages, and for longer stretches typically mixed it with iambic tetrameter:
x X x X x X x X
which is easier to write. Thus, for example, the magicians in Bartholemew and the Oobleck make their first appearance chanting in trochees (thus resembling the witches of Shakespeare's Macbeth):
Shuffle, duffle, muzzle, muff
then switch to iambs for the oobleck spell:
Go make the oobleck tumble down
In Green Eggs and Ham, Sam-I-Am generally speaks in trochees, and the exasperated character he proselytizes replies in iambs.
While most of Seuss's books are either uniformly anapestic or iambic-trochaic, a few mix triple and double rhythms. Thus, for instance, Happy Birthday to You is generally written in anapestic tetrameter, but breaks into iambo-trochaic meter for the "Dr. Derring's singing herrings" and "Who-Bubs" episodes.