Dear Balladeer and Essorant,
If all you can remember of the poem was the rhyme between "show" and "widow," the poem must have been pretty forgettable. In which case the argument was pretty much beside the point anyway. Both of you are probably more right than not about scansion. Lord knows it can be done nine ways from Tuesday. I'm uncertain what the disagreement is about. Both of you more than know what you're doing, you just do it differently and very competently.
What's that line from Lear? I always get the "howls" wrong.
Howl Howl Howl Howl! O Ye are Men of Stones.
Sometimes I think there are five howls, sometimes four, and I never look it up because I always think I should already know it. I've always thought this a wonderful line. I think it points up the difference between actual speech, in which each Howl gets its own stress, as does each other word in the line, to varying degrees. Some are given a full stress, some a partial stress simply by their place in the sentence; and of course each individual word gets its own stress, simply because it's impossible to have a word in isolation without one. Level 1, individual word stress. Level two, stress from the natural pace and inflection of an English sentence. Level three differs for prose and poetry. Poetry imposes caesurae and line breaks to alter the balance and flow of each individual line, and to make each line a unit in itself with sub-units balanced off against each other and the against grammatical and periodic units of English grammar that both poetry and prose must deal with. While grammatical and periodic units of english are something prose needs to deal with, it does not have to deal with caesurae and lineation as part of the intention of the writer as he builds his piece. Level four has to do with the actual metrics of the poem.
While Lear howls, he freights the line with all the stresses anybody with a heart would feel in carrying the body of thel daughter he has with his own folly helped to murder across the moor in the middle of a titanic thunderstorm. His own mind is flying apart. We will will stand aside from this long enough to notice two things. One, that this fragmentation is reflected in the total number of heavy stresses in the words. The words in this line are monosyllabic and are saturated with stresses. Depending on how you count them, there are at least seven.
HOWL HOWL HOWL HOWL! oh YE are MEN of STONES.
That's if you want to count each word as having a stress, of course. . . What Shakespeare likely intended, though, was a regular iambic pentameter line:
howl HOWL/ howl HOWL/ o YE/are MEN/of STONES
And he jammed that line as chock full of stresses as he possibly could without having the thing fly apart on him. He is playing off the actual english prose sentence rhythm against the metrics against the rhetorical urgency of the line to produce one of the best single lines of English poetry. And any single way of scanning it, even the way I've suggested here falls very far short indeed of what the actual thing is in itself.
Though I admit the show and widow rhyme story did have me giggling. That poem must have been pretty painful; otherwise, I'd expect you'd be telling us about this incredible poem you'd read with this flaw you couldn't quite remember. Or you'd have skipped over the issue in the first place, knowing that not everybody feels that rhyming a two syllable and a single syllable word, as long as they have the same ending, is a flaw. It's not as if there's a single source to which one might appeal for a definitive answer to such questions, although Bridges would come close for metrics. It's custom built over a few thousand years.
I figure helping Mr. Bryan rather than making his head spin would probably be helpful. I'm afraid we make it sound impossible to write poetry when we go on this way. If Mr. Bryan is still out there, there's a wonderful book of exercises called THE PRACTICE of POETRY edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell loaded with exercises that turn into poems remarkably rapidly.