Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

If you have read any of Shakespeare's other sonnets—or indeed, any sonnet in the traditional form—you may recognize this meter. It is iambic pentameter, a meter in which each line contains five iambic feet, or iambs.

An iamb is an unstressed beat followed by a stressed beat (or emphasized syllable). So, iambic pentameter does not mean that there are only five syllables in a line, but that there are five points of emphasis. Let's look at a line from this poem poem:

That TIME of YEAR thou MAYST in ME beHOLD.

The capitalized syllables represent the places where we'd give stress to the sentence if we were reading it aloud.

Now, the meter in this poem is perfect—all the lines conform exactly to the iambic pentameter guideline. However, sometimes we will find a poem written in iambic pentameter where one or two of the lines doesn't quite fit—maybe it has four iambs, or six. In such a case, we would still describe the poem as being written largely in iambic pentameter.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I am going to assume that the question is asking about "Sonnet 73" by William Shakespeare.  Being a Shakespearean sonnet, this poem's rhythm and meter is iambic pentameter.  An iambic foot is composed of an unstressed syllable followed be a stressed syllable.  Shakespeare will use this rhythmic foot five times per line, and that gives each line 10 total syllables or five iambic feet.  That is why it is called iambic pentameter.  Let us look at the first line of the poem to illustrate this point.  I will use bold to illustrate the stressed syllables.  

That time / of year / thou mayst / in me / behold 

"Sonnet 73" will use this particular rhythm and meter through most of the poem. However, line 13 messes with the iambic foot at the beginning of the line. The first syllable is stressed, and the following syllable is unstressed.  This is called a trochee, and it is the opposite of the iambic rhythm.  

This thou / perceiv'st / which makes / thy love / more strong.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial