Poetry essay: Iambic meter

Today’s poetry essay looks at iambic meter.

Iambic meter consists of units called feet.  Each foot consists of two syllables.  The first syllable is unstressed and the second syllable is stressed.  This combination of an unstressed and a stressed syllable is what makes up an iamb.

Here are some examples of iambic words:

escape account repair complete degree confer dessert subtract reduce amount

In these words, the first syllable is unstressed and the second syllable is stressed.

Iambic meter is a classic meter.  It is the meter you might hear in sonnets, limericks, and blank verse poems.

Iambic meter with five feet is called iambic pentameter.  It has ten syllables per line.

Iambic meter with four feet is called iambic tetrameter.  It has eight syllables per line.

Iambic meter has a number of benefits.

First, iambic meter gives poetry a “poetry” sound.  It gives a beat to poetry that can make poetry sound like “poetry”.

Second, iambic meter imparts predictability of sound.  This can be good for the writer because it can help them think of words and sounds that follow what they have written.  It can be good for readers because it can make a poem easier to read.

Third, iambic meter can be used in traditional poetry forms like the sonnet and limerick noted above.

Fourth, iambic meter can be combined with other poetry elements.  By its nature, it uses syllable count per line.  It can also be combined with rhyming patterns, different numbers of stanzas, different line counts per stanza, and more.

Fifth, iambic meter has a natural quality to it.  People sometimes speak in it without intending to or noticing it.  There are many words and word combinations that fit iambic meter.  It can be a good meter to start with if a person isn’t used to using meter.

Sixth, in some dictionaries syllable stress of words is noted.  This can make it easy for a person to locate words that are naturally iambic.  It can also help when combining words in a line of poetry.

If you’ve never written in poetry meter before, you might start by writing a simple poem in iambic meter.  A good example would a poem with one stanza, four lines in the stanza, iambic pentameter in each of the lines, and the second and fourth lines rhyming.  This is a very traditionally sounding form and can be a good one to start with.  It has a very “poetry” sound to it.

If you are having trouble writing in meter, you might try at first to use only two syllable words that are naturally iambic.  As these can be looked up in a dictionary, it can make it easy to start even if you can’t hear the meter when you start out.