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How to Write a Poem in Iambic Pentameter


The iambic pentameter is a meter or rhythm of language typically found in traditional poetry. The rhythm measures small groups of syllables called "feet." When the foot measures two syllables -- the first syllable unstressed and the second stressed -- the foot is called an iamb. An iambic pentameter constitutes five sets of unstressed syllable followed by stressed syllable in a line. Some of the most famous poets in history -- including William Shakespeare, John Dunne, Thomas Milton, Edmund Spenser and Elizabeth Barrett-Browning -- used iambic pentameter. But even a beginner can write in this style.

Choose a Topic

Iambic pentameter was often used to write sonnets. Because most sonnets are written to express love or romantic thoughts, iambic pentameter is associated with love poems. But poetry in iambic pentameter can be about any topic. Choose something you care or know about, as the words and feelings come more easily with a topic you understand.

Understanding Iambs and Pentameters

Poetry is measured in feet, including the two-syllable iambic feet. In an example from Shakespeare — “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May” — the iambs are "rough winds," "do shake," "the dar-," "-ling buds," "of May." When you say these lines out loud, the rhythm is obvious. Iambic feet work well in English, so writing iambs tends to be easier in English than in some other languages. Because pentameter is a measure of five feet, each line of your poem needs to have five feet -- or five sets of unstressed syllable followed by stressed syllable in a line. Each line in your poem should follow this same rhythm. Reading the words aloud is one of the best ways to verify that you have written iambs and five of them are found in each line.

Rhyme Scheme

Meter and rhyme are separate things, and iambic pentameter has nothing to do with rhyme scheme. A poem written in iambic pentamenter that doesn't rhyme is called blank verse, and much of Shakespeare's writing followed this pattern. If you don't want to write in blank verse, you could select any rhyme scheme for your lines of iambic pentameter. Each line's final word is assigned a letter. If lines rhyme, they share the same letter. For example, in the a b a b rhyme scheme, the first and third lines rhyme, as do the second and fourth lines.

Sonnet Rhyme Schemes

If you want to write a sonnet, the rules on rhyme are a little different. Although sonnets are most often written in iambic pentameter, they can be written with one of three different rhyme schemes. Spencerian sonnets follow an a a b a b b c b c c d c d e e rhyme scheme. Shakespearean or English sonnets use a scheme of a a b a b c d c d e f e f g g. Both of these types end with a couplet or two lines back to back that rhyme. The Petrarchan or Italian sonnets follow a rhyme scheme that has a b b a a b b a for he first eight lines, followed by a different grouping of two or three rhyming sounds for the last six lines with no couplet.

About the Author

Since 2004, Sarah Aguirre has been sharing her tutorials with readers eager to learn more about caring for, managing and enjoying their homes and families. Her advice has appeared in "Woman's Day," "Real Simple," and "First for Women."

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