What is an Iambic Pentameter?

What is an Iambic Pentameter?

iambic pentameter

What is Iambic Pentameter?

Iambic pentameter is a poetic tool. Everything has its measuring tool just as a mile, used for measuring distance, comprises several meters, and each meter comprises smaller units like centimeters and further into millimeters so also meter by which we determine in the rhythm of poetry, is sub-divided into several feet and each foot into a numbers of syllables. 

A syllable in English comprises one vowel sound. A word may have one or more vowel sounds, e.g., “love” is one syllable word while the word “arises” contains three syllables, some of which are stressed or accented (as in singing music),- while others are unaccented or without stress on it.

What Is Meter in Poetry?

We can define meter in poetry as an ordered rhythm which results from a regular alternation of accented and unaccented syllable, or as they are sometimes called, stressed (long) and unstressed (short), syllables in poetry.

Definition of Iambic Pentameter

The structured rhythm of poetry arises from a regular alternation of accented or stressed and unaccented or unstressed syllables. The position of the accented and unaccented syllables and numbers of syllables in a foot determines the nature and type of meter or measure of English poetry. Heroic couplet is written mostly in same measure.

Iambic pentameter is a style of writing in poetry where each line is five feet long. Each foot contains two syllables, one is stressed and second in unstressed. In a simple way each line carries ten syllables: five stressed and five unstressed. Look at the example.

Example of Iambic Pentameter

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” (Shakespeare’s sonnet)

(Shall+I) (com+par) (Thee+to) (a+ sum) (mer’s+day)

In the above meter, each foot has two syllables of which the first is unstressed and the second stressed. In Iambic Pentameter, there are five feet or ten syllables in a poetry line. Iambic pentameter is the measure in which most of the English poetry (e.g. sonnet writing) has been written. It is one of the most common measure of English verse. However, if instead of 10 syllables (or 5 feet) there are only 4 feet or 8 syllables in a line it would be called Iambic Tetrameter. Similarly, there can be dimeter (lines of two feet), trimeter (lines of three feet), octameter (lines of eight feet), etc.

Example of Iambic Tetrameter:

“Awake my soul and with the sun”

(A+wake) (my+soul) (and+with) (the+sun)

(After each foot, there is an unaccented syllable followed by an accented one)