Things You Learned in School – Iambic Pentameter

By definition, iambic pentameter is a commonly used metrical line in traditional verse and verse drama. (Thank you, Wikipedia!). The term describes the rhythm of the words in that  line. It’s measured in small groups of syllables, called “feet”.

“Iambic” stands for the kind of foot – an unaccented syllable followed by an accented one. (Need a refresher on accents? Check out my 10/5/ post).

“Pentameter” tells us that there are five of them per line.

The woman who first taught me about iambic pentameter told me that it sounded like a person wearing one big boot going down a hall with a wooden floor.

Like this,

Ba-DUM-ba-DUM-ba-DUM-ba-DUM-ba-DUM!

It’s said to echo the beating of the human heart.

And one could do a lot worse than put  heart into your verse…

Why might you want to know about iambic pentameter?

Well, first of all, this is the rhythm that many classic forms of poetry, including sonnets, are written in. Shakespeare wrote largely in iambic pentameter.

If you want to write different kinds of poetry, you’re probably going to have to know and love your iambic pentameter.

But secondly, there’s a reason that iambic pentameter is one of the most common poetic forms. Iambic pentameter echoes a natural way that people speak. It creates a rhythm that makes things written in it eminently speakable or singable. It’s good for drama and for words that make an impact on a reader or an audience.

When done right, it makes good writing….

There are variations on the basic form that I’m not going to cover at the present time, but I’d encourage you to play with iambic pentameter and see what it can bring to your poetry, songs and plays.

After all, William Shakespeare liked it.

Catherine Kane

10/19/11

This entry was posted in Poetry, Terms and Definitions, The Process of Writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Things You Learned in School – Iambic Pentameter

  1. Pingback: Things You Learn in School – Groundwork in Sonnets | catherinekanewrites

  2. Pingback: Things You Learn in School – Sonnets and Rhyme Schemes | catherinekanewrites

  3. Pingback: Things You Learn in School- Shakespearian (English) Sonnets | catherinekanewrites

  4. Pingback: Things You Learn in School- Spencerian Sonnets | catherinekanewrites

  5. Pingback: Things You Learn in School – Italian Sonnets | catherinekanewrites

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