In a literature lesson about poetic rhythm, what verse of a poem would you choose to explain iambic pentameter? Why?
For illustration of its essential features, I would use several examples of iambic pentameter from different points in literary history.
A very straightforward line is the opening of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, where Antonio says:
In sooth I know not why I am so sad.
This conforms entirely to the pattern of five iambs, the poetic foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one. It has always been said that this became the standard meter of English poetry because it reflects the normal rhythm of regular English speech. Another example, the opening of Byron's Don Juan :
I want a hero; an uncommon want.
Yet, while we are on the subject of Byron, it should be mentioned that he often uses feminine rhymes, multi-syllabic rhymes that will cause the last "foot" of the verse to be extended by one or more extra syllables. An example:
Don Juan's parents lived beside the river:
A noble stream, and called the Guadalquivir.
Each of these lines has eleven syllables instead of ten, but it's still technically iambic pentameter. Poets often extend beyond the normal ten even in cases where there is no need for a rhyme, as in blank verse. Macbeth asks of the "fatal vision" of the knife he will use to kill Duncan:
Or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain.
The second line, similarly, has an extra syllable. One might mention that Chaucer, in The Canterbury Tales, seemingly established iambic pentameter as the normal meter for English for all time—but given the Middle-English pronunciation of his period, the extra syllable is much more common due to the non-silent final "e":
Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote.
An additional divergence from the standard pattern is that the sequence of...
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