Wordly Wisdom

A site about words
Home      Poetic Metre
Print this pageAdd to Favorite

So what IS an iambic pentameter? Shakespeare wrote in them, sometimes ("My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun). This little poem by Coleridge may help. No?
Trochee trips from long to short;  From long to short in solemn sort
 Slow Spondee stalks; strong foot! yet ill able
 Ever to come up with Dactyl trisyllable.
 Iambics march from short to long; --
 With a leap and a bound the swift Anapaests -
 One syllable long, with one short at each side,
 Amphibrachys hastes with a stately stride;--
 First and last being long, middle short, -
 Strikes his thundering hoofs like a proud high-
    bred Racer."
                                 Samuel Taylor Coleridge

"Iambic" is a limping rhythm: de-dum, de-dum, de-dum. "Pentameter" means a line with five strong beats. Once you've got the iambic pentameter you start hearing them everywhere, in Agatha Christie ("A native dagger driven through her heart"), Murder She Wrote ("He didn't have the strength to fight me off"), and Raymond Chandler ("The streets are dark with something more than night").

Trochee (trochaic rhythm) is the other way round: dum-de, dum-de, dum-de.
A Spondee is two equal beats: dum-dum, dum-dum, dum-dum.
The word Dactyl means a finger. It's long-short-short or dum-diddy. (Look at your metacarpals.)
Anapests are the opposite of dactyls: instead of going dum-diddy, they go diddy-dum, diddy-dum like a horse galloping.
We don’t have to worry too much about Amphibrachys (dum-de-dum, dum-de-dum) or Amphimacer (de-dum-de, de-dum-de).