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Some more on iambic pentameter


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One of our regular members, whose work has always been novel and a pleasure to read, has of late been producing some sonnets. Backchannel, Eclipse asks (re his recent "sonnet for Newcastle (practice)," "hi Tony does the meter scan in that sonnet?-Barry." Reproduced below is the text of my reply to him which he has graciously allowed me to share so that others also may (hopefully) benefit from the analysis. Eclipse wrote this sonnet in an hour. It usually takes me a lot longer than that to even formulate an idea (or ideas) for shorter poems. Then again, I'm pretty slow, lol.


I'm assuming you're going for iambic pentameter. The meter's okay in some parts but needs some work in others. I'll scan it for you.


Please give me the grace of the Newcastle skies

This line scans as IP:

/please GIVE/me the GRACE/{of the/NEW CAS}/tle SKIES/

/iamb/anapest/{pyrrhic/spondee}/iamb/ [pyrrhic+spondee = double iamb]

You have four iambs and an anapest. This is iambic pentameter.


allow me the powers of the mighty Tyne.

/alLOW/me the POW/ers OF/the MIGH/ty TYNE/


Same. Four iambs and an anapest make an iambic pentameter. Though "of" isn't necessarily a stressed word, in this line it is "promoted" and stressed.


Moon on the waters-contact of allies

/MOON on/the WA/ters CON/tact of AL/lies


This line is not IP. There are only four feet when there should be five. If you modify it as such, it will almost be IP, but not quite:

/MOON on/the WA/ters AND/a CON/tact of AL/lies

/trochee/iamb/iamb/iamb/anapest/^ (feminine ending)

The unstressed syllable at the end of a line of iambic pentameter is commonplace and conforming, but the last foot in this line, any way you look at it, is an anapest. A line of IP should only end with an iamb, a spondee, or a pyrrhic. Also, in this case, "allies" is not an appropriate choice for a rhyme. Here's why: in L1, "skies" is stressed. You need to conform this line by using word combinations that will result in a stressed syllable at the end or change L1 so that it ends on an unstressed syllable. If you use a feminine ending in one line, the rhyming line should have a feminine ending, too, and vice versa. This is all assuming I'm not missing something here in how the word is said. It is allies, isn't it, with the stress on the first syllable?


this is where the flesh waits for the divine.



The line has two iambs and a spondee, which is counted as an iamb, and thus conforms. It's important to note that lines taken individually will often conform, but when read together with the other lines the sense can be lost. For example, within the context of your other lines, despite the problems with the preceding line, I want to stress "this." Is it possible to write a line of IP that doesn't? Sure it is. For example, this one conforms, too:

/this is WHERE/the FLESH/will WAIT/for THE/diVINE/


Not good in the context. The way you have it is better. Just fix the preceding line.


The night rivers history walks with me

/the NIGHT/RIVer's/HISto/ry WALKS/with ME/


This line is iambic pentameter. There are at least three iambs and two acceptable substitutions.


one seagull sits lightly on the river

... is problematic (not enough feet). Consider:

/and a SEA/gull sits LIGHT/ly ON/the FLOW/ing RIV/er

/anapest/anapest/iamb/iamb/iamb/^ (feminine ending)


I watch below-the moonlit tapestry

/i WATCH/beLOW/the MOON/lit TAP/es try/


The line is iambic pentameter. The dictionary doesn't show a secondary stress on the last syllable of "tapestry," and I'm surprised, because I think I detect one when I say the word. But even unstressed, according to one of my sources, a poet has the option to count or disregard a pyrrhic at the end of a line of IP to suit his metrical needs.


in the sleeping locality dreams hover

/in the SLEEP/ing loCAL/i ty DREAMS/HOVer/


If "in" is not stressed (and the context will dictate whether or not it is), then this does not conform. If "in" is stressed, the line conforms:

/IN the/SLEEPing/loCAL/{i ty/DREAMS HOV}/er

/trochee/trochee/iamb/{pyrrhic/spondee (double iamb)}/^ (feminine ending)

Though this works as an independent line of IP (perhaps as a complete sentence in first line of a poem), it's my opinion that when read naturally in your context, "in" is not stressed. Consider adding "while" to the beginning of the line:

/while IN/the SLEEP/ing loCAL/{i ty/DREAMS HOV}/er

/iamb/iamb/anapest/{pyrrhic/spondee (double iamb)}/^ (feminine ending)

It ends up as four iambs and an anapest and thus conforms.


A veiled heart is salvaged from it's slumber

... comes across as a beautiful line of IP, so long as "veiled" is read, contrary to the dictionary, as two syllables:

/a VEI/eld HEART/is SAL/vaged FROM/its SLUM/ber

... but I think the purist would object. "Veiled" is one syllable. Consider:

/a VEILED/HEART is/aWAK/ened FROM/its SLUM/ber

/iamb/trochee/iamb/iamb/iamb/^ (feminine ending)

(Or you'd have to do something like add "now" or "soon" in front of "salvaged" to satisfy a stickler:

/a VEILED/HEART is/now SAL/vaged FROM/its SLUM/ber



a crowds rapture is romanced in a net

/a CROWDS/RAPture/is RO/manced IN/a NET/


Beautiful IP and alliteration if read this way. If you read it like this, it doesn't conform:

/a CROWDS/RAPture/IS ro/MANCED in/a NET/


Why? Because there should be at least three iambs in a conforming IP. But again, context will determine how a line should be read. Structure your poems so that the context will dictate how the stresses fall. It's the natural way. If you try to compartmentalize, to pigeonhole independent lines of IP, however conforming, into a poem while disregarding context, the reader will stumble, and the meter will appear off (unless each line is its own sentence).


Inside the stadium nine is the number

... is short a foot. It makes no difference if you say INside or inSIDE, the line needs another foot. You need to fill it out with something to make it conform. For example:

/INside/the STA/di um NINE/{is the/NEW NUM}/ber

/trochee/iamb/anapest/{pyrrhic/spondee = double iamb}/^ (feminine ending)

This is IP. Notice also how your feminine endings are used properly: SLUMber/NUMber (not like in L1 & L3 where you used SKIES/ALlies).


outside a statue fans will not forget

/OUTside/a STAT/ue FANS/will NOT/forGET/


Very nice IP. It doesn't matter if you say OUTside or outSIDE. Either one is correct.


Robson anticipates wisely the ascent

/ROBson/anTI/ci pates WISE/ly THE/asCENT/


The dictionary shows a secondary stress on the last syllable of "anticipate," but I would probably disregard it. (Not sure what the standard is on this when it comes to the use of rhymes in feminine endings.)


of Newcastle becoming the north's monument.

/of NEW/CAStle/beCOM/{ing the/NORTHS MON}/u ment/

/iamb/trochee/iamb/{pyrrhic/spondee (double iamb)}/pyrrhic/

This line appears to have an extra foot, but remember what I said earlier about a pyrrhic at the end of a line? It's either counted or not counted at the poet's discretion (according to one of my sources). I would say, in this case, it's not counted. But you did rhyme it with asCENT, so I'm not sure what to say about it other than I myself don't find it objectionable. Gives it that diminuendo ending, kind of like the last line in Yeats' "Leda and the Swan." The word "Newcastle" adds a level of complexity to this poem's meter both times that it's used. "New" is stressed, and so is the first syllable of "Castle," and I'm inclined to say it with a secondary stress on "Castle." Some people use a numbering system comprised of 1,2,3,&4 to show greater variation when it comes to metrical stress:


of Newcastle becoming the north's monument



I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any questions.



Here is a link to an index of my works on this site: tonyv's Member Archive topic

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Awesome lesson in iambic pentameter. Thank you Tony and Eclipse for sharing this. I am always trying to wrap my brain around meter and this poem with scansion make it so understandable. When I read the poem originally I knew the rhythm was off a bit but not entirely.... Here is the explaination. With a little tweaking of the meter in the lines in question this could be a wonderful example of a Shakespearean Sonnet.



~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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I'm glad this is helpful, Tinker. One of the things I didn't mention in my reply to Eclipse is the benefit that comes with the use of punctuation. Punctuation is instrumental when it comes to the conveyance of thoughts in written communication. When conventional punctuation is employed the reader is less likely to "stumble" as he reads a metrical line within the context of the other metrical lines around it.



Here is a link to an index of my works on this site: tonyv's Member Archive topic

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hi Tony

It saddens me to see so much of your time spent on prosody when you could share so much with your readers by writing poems.



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hi Tony

It saddens me to see so much of your time spent on prosody when you could share so much with your readers by writing poems.



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  • 2 weeks later...
David W. Parsley

Hi Tony, fascinating analysis, and a generous gift to a poet in a crucial stage of his development (as well as to the rest of us). Always a student of our mutual Art, I would be grateful for a list of your principal sources. Iambic pentameter is so central to the development of western poetry over the last few hundred years. Implicit and explicit to defining standard forms, such as the sonnet, it is also the root of any discussion of free forms as well as extention of traditional forms, such as the so-called "sprung rhythm" techniques introduced by Gerard Manley Hopkins.


My own extensions of meter and scansion were preceded by schooling in strict adherence to form, under the tutelage of J.A. Christensen, a poet of some prominence of the '50s and '60s, who influenced several of the California beat poets. I applaud the labors of Barry, whose aspirations sight the summit of Parnassus, and you for acting as guide.


Nicely Done,

- Dave

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Hi Dave,


Most of what I know about iambic pentameter I've learned from three topics (on another site) to which I provide links in post number three of this topic: Meter, Rhythm, and Musicality. A book which comes highly recommended from a participant in those same three topics is All the Fun's in How You Say a Thing -- an Explanation of Meter and Versification (Ohio University Press, Athens, Ohio, 1999) by Timothy Steele. I recommend the book myself in this topic: A Fantastic Book on Meter.


At one point in my reply to Eclipse, I state that according to one of my sources a poet is free to count or disregard a pyrrhic at the end of an iambic pentameter. That source is The Art and Craft of Poetry by Michael J. Bugeja. On page 191, where Bugeja includes the definition of a pyrrhic, he adds a note: "When a pyrrhic ends a line ... the poet may count it as a complete foot or disregard it, depending on the desired meter."


Overall, I can't stress enough the value of the three links in post number three of the first linked topic in paragraph one of this reply. I'm certain the authority ("Howard Miller") in those topics knows what he's talking about when it comes to iambic pentameter; virtually all the sonnets and other poems written in iambic pentameter that I've ever come across have conformed to the standards set forth in those topics and can be scanned/broken down/analyzed accordingly. I have other books, too, but these sources have been most influential to me.




PS -- In my reply to Eclipse I should have pointed out that anapests, while common in iambic pentameter, are contained in iambics that Frost termed "loose." "Strict" iambics do not contain anapests.


PPS -- Badge, sorry for going on about it ... I really do want/hope/intend to produce more. :blush: But I'll take what you wrote as a compliment. :happy:

Here is a link to an index of my works on this site: tonyv's Member Archive topic

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