Which Line is an Example of Iambic Pentameter

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The term iambic pentameter sounds like it’due south more at abode in a science textbook than it is in your English class. Only believe information technology or not, iambic pentameter is a type of poetic meter!

In other words,
iambic pentameter is a term that refers to a very specific blazon of rhythm that y’all observe in poesy.

Knowing what poetic meter is and how to detect information technology is an of import skill for the AP Literature test, and it tin be really impressive if you discuss information technology properly in the AP exam’south essay portion. Nosotros know poetic meter might sound scary—heck,
that has to do with poesy tin can be scary!—but we’re here to help.
In this article, you’ll learn what iambic pentameter is, find how to detect it in a poem, and analyze iambic pentameter examples in poesy.

Allow’due south swoop right in!


“Penta” ways “v,” so you know there volition be v of SOMETHING in iambic pentameter.

(Spoiler warning: it has to do with the number of iambs in each line!)

Iambic Pentameter: Definition and Meaning

To empathise iambic pentameter, it’s easiest to break the phrase downwardly into two parts.

Part 1: Pentameter

Permit’s start with pentameter. In poetry,
meter is the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a verse, or line, of a verse form.

Whew! That’southward already a lot! Allow’s unpack that a little flake.
A syllable is the number of

vowel sounds

that are nowadays in a word.
Consonant sounds don’t matter! The more than vowel sounds a word has, the more syllables it has! (Quick refresher: vowels are a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y.) So for example, “question” has two syllables, “flexible” has three syllables, and “do” has one syllable.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking long words must have more than syllables than short words! Syllabation has everything to do with the vowel sounds a word has, non the number of letters. For instance, the word “screeched” only has 1 syllable whereas “utopia” has four!

But poetic meter is more than but the number of syllables in a verse: it’s the
of stressed and unstressed syllables. So what makes a syllable stressed or unstressed? Well, nosotros’re glad y’all asked!

A stressed syllable is a syllable that has v tests all on the same day. (Just kidding…just we couldn’t resist a dad joke.) But seriously,
a stressed syllable is a syllable that’south emphasized within a word.
It’s the syllable that stands out, and it often has a long vowel sound.

Let’south look at a few words to see what we hateful. Take “meter,” for example. Meter has 2 syllables, and the first one is stressed. But when yous say “meter,” yous pronounce it ME-ter, not me-TER. That’s because the first syllable is stressed.
That makes the second syllable—or the one that doesn’t accept emphasis—unstressed.
Another example is “computer.” In this give-and-take, merely the middle syllable is stressed. You pronounce it com-PU-ter, not COM-pu-ter or com-pu-TER.

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Not all words take stressed syllables! For example, “homemade” has two unstressed syllables. (It would sound silly to say HOME-made or home-Fabricated.)

Although there are complex ways to determine stressed and unstressed syllables, the easiest way to decide the stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry is to read the verse out loud. You’ll definitely be able to hear if you lot’re pronouncing a word funny! (In our favorite clip from the moving picture
A View from the Top,
Mike Meyers demonstrates this perfectly.)

But what makes a poem have pentameter specifically? Well,
a verse form with pentameter has five stressed syllables in a line.
Here’s an instance of a line with pentameter from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18.” The line reads, “Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines.” Okay, so permit’s break this line up into syllables past using hyphens instead. If nosotros count the syllables in this line, nosotros end up with x, and the line would look like this:

“Some-time besides hot the eye of hea-ven shines.”

Now let’due south look at the stressed syllables. In this line, every other syllable is stressed. So when you read it out loud, it sounds like this:

“Some-TIME too HOT the Center of HEA-ven SHINES.”

That means the line has 5 stressed syllables, which tells united states of america that this verse uses pentameter. (And because we know this is a Shakespearean sonnet, nosotros too know that the whole poem will be in pentameter.)

When all of a poem’s lines have the same number of stressed syllables, we say that the poem has meter.
Poems tin have all kinds of meter. Poems where lines accept vi stressed syllables in each line are written in “hexameter,” and a verse form with three stressed syllables in each line would be in “triameter.” In the case of a
poem with pentameter, every single line of the poem will have five stressed syllables in some combination.

Did you know that poesy has feet? METRICAL feet, that is!

Part two: Iambs

At present let’due south tackle the “iambic” part of iambic pentameter. An iamb is a type of metrical foot in poetry. (A metrical foot is a combination of stressed and unstressed syllables that repeats itself throughout a poesy, stanza, or poem.)

An iamb is a very specific type of metrical foot that has one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.
In order to figure this out, it’southward best to read the poem out loud. You lot can underline each function of the word that is a stressed syllable, which will allow you to visualize the pattern. (There are actual, formal marks that linguists and literature scholars use to indicate rhythm and meter, which you can find hither if you’re interested.)

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Here’southward a line from Shakespeare’due south “Sonnet 37”: “And by a part of all thy glory live.” Let’southward go ahead and break it into its stressed and unstressed syllables, which looks something like this:

and By a PART of ALL thy GLO-ry LIVE

See how the stresses alternate with unstressed syllables perfectly? Each pair of unstressed and stressed syllables—like “and/by” and “of/all”—is an iamb.
Because each line of this poem uses this alternating structure of unstressed and stressed syllables, we would say that the poem iambic.

Randall Munroe/xkcd

Putting It Together: Iambic Pentameter

So now let’s put all of our new noesis together. If an iamb is a combination of syllables, and meter is a certain number of stressed syllables, then iambic pentameter is a specific organisation of stressed and unstressed syllables.
In iambic pentameter, each line of the poem has to have v iambs!

To see this at piece of work, let’southward wait at some other line from a Shakespearean sonnet, this time from “Sonnet 104.” The line reads, “Have from the forests shook iii summers’ pride.”

First, allow’due south break the line downwardly into its
using hyphens:

Have from the for-ests shook three sum-mers’ pride

Now, let’s add together the stresses into the line by
capitalizing each stressed syllable:

Have FROM the FOR-ests SHOOK iii SUM-mers’ PRIDE

At present, permit’s
count the metrical feet
by adding a / in betwixt each piece of the pattern:

Take FROM / the FOR / ests SHOOK / 3 SUM / mers’ PRIDE

Because this line has v anxiety that each contain an unstressed syllable followed past a stressed syllable, we know that information technology’southward a verse written in iambic pentameter.
When the whole verse form is written with the aforementioned rhythm, we can say that the
has iambic pentameter, also!

Iambic pentameter is a popular poetic course, especially in English poetry. Many people call up of it as the “standard” poetic meter, likely considering Shakespeare’southward sonnets are all written in iambic pentameter. But some modern poets, similar Wallace Stevens and John Keats, use iambic pentameter, too.


Iambic Pentameter in Poetry: “The Waking” by Theodore Roethke

Now that you know what iambic pentameter is, let’southward exam out your new skills with a poem that wasn’t written by Shakespeare!
Let’s have a await at a few stanzas from “The Waking” by Theodore Roethke,
one of the near famous poets of the 20th century, which is a good iambic pentameter example. The 2nd stanza reads:

We think by feeling. What is in that location to know?

I hear my being trip the light fantastic toe from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Okay, try doing this one on your ain.
Copy and paste this stanza into your word processor and encounter if you can suspension each line into syllables.
Then capitalize the stressed syllables. Once that’south done, put a forward slash in between each metrical foot.

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Once you’re done, check out the correct meter in the box below:

we THINK / by FEE / ling. WHAT/ is There / to KNOW?

i HEAR / my BE / ing DANCE / from EAR / to EAR
i WAKE / to Sleep / and Accept / my WAK /ing SLOW

See the pattern of iambs (an unstressed followed by a stressed syllable)? Because each line has five iambs, y’all know the poem is written in iambic pentameter!

Let’due south endeavor some other iambic pentameter example from the same verse form.
Here’s the stanza:

Keen Nature has another thing to do

To you and me; then accept the lively air,
And, lovely, acquire by going where to go.

Practice the aforementioned affair: split the syllables by a hyphen, and then go dorsum and capitalize every syllable that you remember is stressed. Here’south the finished marking-up:

corking NA / ture HAS / a-NO / ther THING / to Exercise

to YOU / and ME; / so Accept / the LIVE / ly AIR,
and, LOVE / ly, LEARN / by GO / ing WHERE / to GO.

Did you get it? We’re certain you lot did now that you’re an iambic pentameter expert!

If you desire some more than do working through iambic pentameter examples,
you can repeat this exercise on almost all of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
(Hey…perhaps yous can find the ones that aren’t
in iambic pentameter, too!) You lot can find all of Shakespeare’due south sonnets courtesy of OpenSource Shakespeare.


At present What?

If this post was helpful and you
want to learn more about how to analyze literature and poetry, check out our step-by-stride analysis of Tom Buchanan from
The Great Gatsby

Studying for the AP Literature exam already?
Here’due south the ultimate AP literature reading list

that will help you lot ace your AP exam.

At that place are 2 AP English tests: the AP Literature test and the AP Language & Composition exam.
Acquire more about the AP Linguistic communication & Composition test

and how it differs from its literary equivalent hither.

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About the Writer

Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth data they need to become into the school of their dreams.

Which Line is an Example of Iambic Pentameter

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