Saying Iambic Pentameter takes a little practice and fills many of us with dread. What is it? Why do I need to know what it is? When will I use this in my daily life?
Don’t panic. I will not rant about how important it is or why you need to know it if you’re not going to write or study poetry. I use the term here because I want to talk about meter in poetry.
Think back to your childhood and learning the alphabet. I bet you learned by singing the alphabet song. Since people have been speaking, they have been memorizing and repeating stories, laws, histories by creating beats or rhythms to make memorizing easy. Listen to yourself or others speaking to small children just learning how to talk, and you’ll hear the rhythms of the speech. It’s everywhere. You cannot get away from it. Don’t think computers need it? Listen to recordings from the first speaking computers. Nobody could stand the flat, monotonous voice. Our home devices have been taught to speak as we do – with rhythm.
Poets play with beats and rhythm to make the poems sound nice and to enhance or give new meaning to the words they choose.
Iambic Pentameter is a famous rhyme because it’s close to our everyday speech, and Shakespeare used it to perfection. My suggestion to new poets is to study the different meters and rhythms out there and see what you like. A description of them all is too much for this simple exercise, so I’m going to give you a quick rundown of Iambic Pentameter.
Pentameter means 5 (penta) feet. Iambic means one foot where the first syllable is unstressed and the next is stressed. Confused? Even when I stood in front of students, I realized I confused people. “Hearing” where and when to stress a syllable is easy when you’re not trying. So, my best advice is to listen. Listen to the top rappers out there. They are masters of rhythm. Bum bum bum bum bum bum is what you will hear in most cases where the bold bums represent the stressed syllable.
If you want to write poetry well, sooner or later, you must master iambic pentameter. Once you do, the rest will be easy to follow.
Meeting Will Shakespeare in the Park
I wondered down manicured paths
Where precision is illusion and form outweighs meaning
Through rooms draped in leaves long past
I thought of winsome and merry of bliss
That grows in abundance where mirth spill and splashed
And who should I see as I rounded the bend
the old Bard himself taking a break
What ho, old Bill, I said with smile
No cup in the hand to toast to your works?
I thought I would smart him; I thought I would call him.
But as I leaned to whisper challenges, his mind opened to me.
The paths are precise; the illusions built solid.
In that restraint build worlds within words