The iamb is the most common relationship we have in English metrical poetry. It is two syllables: the first is unstressed, the second stressed (u-S). The two syllables together create a unit called a foot. A foot can be any unit of two or three syllables (or one or four but we'll talk about those later) that when put together allow us to map the meter of a poem. Notice how I said meter and not rhythm.
Meter is not rhythm.
I gave a definition of poetic rhythm in the first thread. Meter is one component of rhythm, not the whole of it. This will become important later. For now, trust me on this (or listen to the audio files I posted in the first thread).
So, let's begin:
One iamb: "The men"
--If a poem's line follow this simple structure, we call it iambic monometer. (I'll give real examples in upcoming posts)
Two iambs: "The men who sit"
Three iambs: "The men who sit on fenc" - es
--iambic trimeter. You'll notice how words don't have to follow the beat. You're not stuck with one or two syllable words. When you carry a multi-syllabic word over the foot unit, this often increases the tempo of the poem.
Four iambs: "The men who sit on fences hide"
--iambic tetrameter. This is the second most common line in English poetry. It is probably the most common in popular songs. The other day, I heard an old Journey song in a taxi: "The smell of wine and cheap perfume"
Five iambs: "The men who sit on fences hide their tails"
--iambic pentameter. This is the most common line in English metrical poetry. We can go longer but I want to stop here. Why? Because it's the most common line in English poetry.
On the way home from work last night, I came up with the above example. It is iambic pentameter. It is also grammatically complete. The only problem is that is doesn't make much sense. Still, as I traveled home last night, I began to see many possibilities in what it might mean. So, even if you never write in iambic verse, meter can always be used as one method to start you on a poem. It's easy and can give you something to work with quickly.
But hear are some examples from published works:
--Christopher Marlowe, Edward IIBut we, alas! are chased, and you, my friends
--Thomas Traherne, "The Salutation"The earth, the seas, the light, the days, the skies
--Alexander Pope, "The Temple of Fame"Above, below, without, within, around
These three examples come from Timothy Steele's All the Fun's, pp. 29-30.
And here is an example of a poem with seven beats per line (iambic heptameter):
--Henry Van Dyke, "America for Me" (This is taken from Paul Fussell's Poetic Meter & Poetic Form, p. 31)I know that Europe's wonderful, yet something seems to lack:
The Past is too much with her, and the people looking back.
But the glory of the Present is to make the Future free--
We love our land for what she is and what she is to be.
And there it is. You have the rules, you can now write metrical verse.
Except for one thing. Look at that last example again. Isn't there something wrong?