Sunday, 16 January 2011

Task 6: Iambic Meter

You all know what RHYME is - and it will be one of the first things you encountered when reading poetry as a young child. "Twinkle twinkle little BAT, How I wonder where you're AT" etc. However, as you are going to find, it is very difficult to use rhyme effectively when writing poems of your own. Too often, the quest to find a word that rhymes ends up changing the meaning of the poem altogether - like points on a railtrack switching the train to a totally different course. However, it is a challenge that is well worth pursuing - i.e. how to find a rhyme whilst not diverting the tracks of your meaning at the same time. And it is a challenge I am setting you this week too.

But, not one to keep things TOO simple, I am also setting you another challenge - and that is to do with METER. Meter is the term to describe the rhythm of a poem - and how that rhythm is created through the number and order of all the syllables in any one line. Those of you who listen to music will know how all music has a BEAT of some sort; some music has a strong and regular beat, other music has a less clear rhythm (and so would be very hard to dance to too!) This week, you are going to be writing poetry with a very regular beat. Here is how...

The simplest type of beat (or, as it is called in poetry, FOOT) is one that goes 'dee-dum' - i.e. made up of TWO syllables, where the SECOND syllable is stressed. This type of foot is called an IAMB; and this type of meter is called IAMBIC. Here is an example of iambic verse:
I cannot write iambic verse.
My poem goes from bad to worse.

See how each line is written in TWO-SYLLABLE beats, with the stress (or emphasis) on the second in each pair. Try reading it with a hand clap on each stressed syllable:
my POem GOES from BAD to WORSE.
This is simple, iambic meter.

Notice also how many feet (or beats) there are in each line. Four. We call these lines tetrameters:
  • 5 feet = pentameter
  • 4 feet = tetrameter
  • 3 feet = trimeter etc.
Now look (or rather LISTEN) to how easily the regular rhythm can be broken. What if I had written 'can't' instead of 'cannot'; or 'poetry' instead of 'poem'? This would have totally changed and disrupted the rhythm of each line:
I can't write iambic verse
My poetry goes from bad to worse.
In the first line, there is one syllable MISSING:
I can't [***] write iambic verse.
Whereas, in the second line, there is one syllable too MANY.
My poeTRY goes from bad to worse.

Right. Now for your challenge. NEXT week we are going to try to produce some SONNETS. But, in preparation, this week we are just going to play with rhyme and meter.

You have TWO poems to write.

Poem One

I would like you to write a poem which:
  • uses ONLY iambic meter;
  • is 10 lines long;
  • begins with two 5-feet lines (i.e. pentameters)
  • then has two 4-feet lines, two 3-feet lines, two 2-feet lines and, finally, two 1-foot lines.
  • rhymes each pair of lines.
Your poem should be about a place (city/country) that you know particularly well.

To help you, here is a quick example:
United Kingdom

Inept, disorganised and bad at sport,
Unable to forget the wars it fought,
Too often marred by skies of grey,
And trapped by debts it cannot pay,
My motherland is tired
And rather uninspired;
Acutely sick
With Dave and Nick
At large,
In charge.
See what you can do, and remember:
  • Lines 1-2 = rhyming, iambic pentameters
  • Lines 3-4 = rhyming, iambic tetrameters
  • Lines 5-6 = rhyming, iambic trimeters
  • Lines 7-8 = rhyming, iambic dimeters
  • Lines 9-10 = rhyming, iambic monometers.
All on a powerful place of your choice.

Poem Two

Once you have completed your first poem, I would like from you all:
  1. a four-line poem (otherwise known as a quatrain)
  2. with an a-b-a-b rhyme scheme (i.e. Lines 1 and 3 rhyme, as do lines 2 and 4);
  3. written in iambic (i.e. dee-DUM) pentameters (i.e. 5 feet/beats/stressed);
  4. about an ANIMAL of your choice.
Here is my attempt...

Orang Utan

A flash of rusty fur flies through the air;
A branch breaks off and crashes to the ground;
I squint to catch a glimpse of orange hair:
This fiery beast refuses to be found.
See what you can come up with, and remember:
  • quatrain
  • a-b-a-b
  • 5 beats
  • dee-DUM
Have fun, and good luck!



  1. Does "sport" and "Fought" Rhyme? It is more like a half-rhyme. Can we use those too?

  2. It's certainly a weak rhyme, as opposed to a strong one - but it is not a half-rhyme. A half-rhyme for "sport" would be something like "part" - i.e. where the final syllabic combination is identical, without, necessarily, the vowels which precede it. I am happy with you using weak or strong rhymes for this task; I would prefer you didn't use half-rhymes. :)


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