Iambic Pentameter Examples from Poems & More

Using Shakespeare to learn pentameters

Poetry: Iambic Pentameter Examples and More

Iambic pentameter is only one of the many forms of poetry structure, and has been popular for centuries; yet, sometimes people still ask, what is iambic pentameter? 

Iambic pentameter consists of alternating five pairs of stressed and unstressed syllables and each line features ten syllables. Blank verse is the un-rhymed form of this structure and is the English language’s most commonly used metrical pattern in poems.

Iambic pentameter examples are one of the best ways to explain this particular form of poetry.

The most famous example comes in the works of William Shakespeare who frequently used this particular structure in his work.

Interestingly, this form was mostly used for characters in the upper classes, leaving his lower class characters to speak in prose. Such a dynamic gives an idea to the weight given to the iambic form.

Of course iambic pentameter is not the only high-brow form of poetry. The petrarchan sonnet, or Italian sonnet, named for its developer Frances Petrarch has been revered for centuries as the oldest form of sonnet.

Poets such as John Milton, whose Paradise Lost is a definitive work in iambic pentameter, Edna St. Vincent MillayEdna St. Vincent Millay and Elizabeth Barrett Browning are known for utilizing this form of verse in their works.

Even though the sonnet typically uses iambic pentameter, it also includes other forms such as tetrameter and hexameter. The Italian sonnet is actually divided into two sections: the octave and sestet. The octave is the first eight lines consisting of an “1 2 1 1 1 2 2 1” rhyme scheme.

The sestet can have a variety of rhyme schemes including “3 4 3 4 3 4,” “3 4 4 3 4 3,” “3 4 5 3 4 5,” “3 4 5 3 5 4” or “3 4 3 5 4 3.”

Free verse tends to break all these conventions leaving boundaries set by any metrical form behind.  Although free verse may have its own distinct rhythm, it does not need to rhyme or follow any particular stress patterns.

Many modern poets follow this form, following the example of famous names including T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman.

Even with this throwing away of convention, free verse poetry can have distinct cadences and rhythms depending on the poet’s personal style.

Poetic rhythm can range from a lyric poem to a Spenserian sonnet.  Poetic styles need not be as restrictive as an iambic form as long as the poetic structure is true to its writer’s vision and is original.

Poetry in any form should be expressive and take its readers into a different realm of experience.