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So what exactly is iambic meter?

While researching this question, in order to find the simplest explantion, I came across an article by Timothy Steele titled – Introduction to Meter and if this sort of thing interests you I would highly recommend that you read it.

Over the last year I have been trying to understand what it is I do by ear alone. When I write a poem I don’t say to myself right, now I am going to write a poem in iambic tetrameter, and to be honest, it’s quite a surprise when I find that I have. Apparently, according to Timothy Steele, English-language poetry is written mostly in iambic meters.So I thought it might be appropriate to look at what that means in a bit more detail.

As we know, words are made up syllables. The word ‘syllable’ for example is made up of 3 syllables. Each syllable is spoken in a certain way according to our accent. Australians place a slight stress on the first syllable such that we pronounce the word SYLL/a/ble. This word could never be used in a verse written in iambic meter because it is made up of a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables. A verse written in iambic meter must follow the pattern of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable as in the following verse written by Hughes Mearns.

As I was walking up the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today.
I wish, I wish he’d stay away.

So let’s break this up into stressed and unstressed syllables and see if it fits an iambic pattern.

As I was walking up the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today.
I wish, I wish he’d stay away.

da DA / da DA / da DA / da DA

So yes, you can see that an iambic pattern does indeed exist and each syllable cluster (/da DA/) is known as a foot, which is the smallest unit of rhythm in a poem. This verse then is written in iambic tetrameter where tetrameter describes how many iambic feet there are in each line. In this case there are four.

To see examples of verse written in iambic dimeter (2), trimeter (3) and pentameter (5) visit Timothy Steeles article mentioned above.

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