Iambic pentameter is a rising meter form consisting of five pairs of unstressed and stressed or accented syllables as five iambic feet per line

History of Iambic Pentameter

In prosody, the term iambic became known in the sixteenth century to define a poetic foot of two syllables wherein the first syllable is short, also known as unstressed and unaccented, and the second syllable is long, known as stressed and accented. Iamb meter was first used in the seventh century BC by Archilochus and is heavily prevalent in classical Greek, Latin, and English poetry from before the twentieth century.

Pentameter originating from the French word pentametre became known since the sixteenth century to define “a verse line of five metrical feet.” Pentameter is one of the traditional types of meter used. Pentameter is historically found in French and Italian classic poetry and was first found used in English poetry thanks to Geoffrey Chaucer in the fourteenth century.

To write in iambic pentameter the prosody of each poetic line is:

ta-DUM ta-DUM ta-DUM ta-DUM ta-DUM

Examples of Iambic Pentameter

John Milton used iambic pentamer in his epic poem Paradise Lost (1667) and William Wordsworth also used the metric form in his autobiographical poem in blank verse The Prelude (1798). William Shakespeare famously wrote his plays and sonnets in iambic pentamer. For instance, “That time of year thou mayst in me behold (Sonnet 73)” indicates the use of iambic meter with every stressed syllable in bold with the following scansion:

           That time of year thou mayst in me behold
           When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
           Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
           Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
           In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
           As after sunset fadeth in the west;
           Which by and by black night doth take away,
           Death's second self, that seals up all in rest

Contemporary examples of iambic pentameter in poetry tend to be interwoven with other iambic and varied forms of meter within the poem, including sonnets. For instance, the scansion of the poem “Instructions on Not Giving Up” by Ada Limón reveals that the first four lines are in iambic pentameter before a change in the fifth line:

           More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
           of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s*
           almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
           their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
           sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees **
           that really gets to me. When all the shock of white

*With the eleventh syllable as unstressed at the end of the line is known as a “feminine ending.”

**The line begins with a trochee, and a stressed syllable ends the line, which is known as a “masculine ending.”

Other examples of iambic meter in poetry include “Paradise Lost, Book VI, Lines 801–66” by John Milton, “Essay on Man, Epistle I [excerpt]” by Alexander Pope, “[I wandered lonely as a Cloud]” by William Wordsworth, “The Face of All the World (Sonnet 7)” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, as well as works by T. S. Eliot, Alice Oswald, Wallace Stevens, and W. B. Yeats.