Why do Poets write Iambic Pentameter?

Good writing and thinking


  • May 14, 2009 Tweaked & corrected some typos.

mount-everest-colored-edgeBecause it wasn’t there.

During the sixteenth century, which culminated in poets like Drayton, Sidney, Spenser, Daniel, and Shakespeare, English was seen as common and vulgar – fit for record keeping. Latin was still considered, by many, to be the language of true literature. Latin was essentially the second language of every educated Elizabethan and many poets, even the much later Milton, wrote poetry in Latin rather than English.

Iambic Pentameter originated as an attempt to develop a meter for the English language legitimizing English as an alternative and equal to Latin (as a language also capable of great poetry and literature). Encyclopedia of Spenser - ExtractSince meter was a feature of all great Latin poetry, it was deemed essential that an equivalent be developed for the English Language. But poets couldn’t simply adopt Latin’s dactylic hexameter or dactylic pentameter lines. Latin uses quantitative meter

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Stan wears Mary’s skirt


Stan woke up later than usual owing to the comfort of   sleeping in his  dear wife’s soft cotton nightgown.He had slept better than  he often did despite the police calling to question him about a nude woman found wandering in the town centre. at midnight.She had forgotten her name!
Women have much better clothes than men,Emile, he remarked to the cat which was stretched out on  the Sun which a visitor had left..I don’t know why I allow that paper in the house You could sleep on a bath towel.
After having a shower,Stan decided to take another look at Mary’s clothes.He found a  long denim skirt in light indigo   and embroidery which he fancied would match his new  cream T shirt.
Of course I shall only wear  it while I do the housework he told Emile.After all in Scotland I could wear a kilt.Can you get a denim kilt he wondered.He decided to wear underpants but not to wear Mary’ssilk petticoat.She might get angry with him.
There is a certain logic in wearing a denim skirt as it  much cooler than trousers and allows easy movement.But of course one must wear decent underpants in case the wind blows under it and reveals all.That’s  why women are always buying packs of pants.So Stan was thinking. and he remembered his  old espadrilles which would look good.He stood in front  of the mirror and imagined he looked quite fetching.

The doorbell rang and on the step was the Vicar of Knittingham South.
Hello,madam, he said pleasantly.
I’m a man,Stan muttered loudly
Yes,dear,of course you are.May I speak to your  husband?
I  am the husband,Stan screeched.
Oh,I see.You are gay then, I assume.
Stan pointed to his beard and said,
I am a man. Didn’t you hear me?
Please forgive me, the Vicar said
Some old ladies get quite hairy and  with the skirt I thought it was rude to mention your beard.How do you find the skirt,by the way?
Well, it’s  very   cool having air on the legs  and it’s definitely  better than shorts.
But a cotton dress would be even better.Are you married?
Yes,said the Vicar but my wife is very intolerant of anything unusual.She’d be furious  if I wore her old  clothes.
My wife doesn’t know,Stan told him.I bet she’d be angry too because  she’d have to iron it again.
Why don’t you wash and iron it before she comes home, the Vicar demanded.
Well, just between the  two  of us I am afraid of  soap powder, irons,telephones, sprouts and   making a mistake in a recipe.Also  eye tests ,blue litmus paper ,Andrex and crisps
I’m afraid of dentists,fogs , bricks.Art,dogs and sausages the Vicar admitted.And doctors and fierce women who swear at me in the dark.
The two men stood  pondering.Are they tarts angry with not getting aby notice from the dear old Vicar.After all Jesus mixed with them.
Come inside, said Stan after a few minutes.Let’s have a coffee.
They sat on the patio drinking  their coffee and saw a wren fly past into the weigelia.
That’s the first I’ve seen recently.said Stan.
Emile was asleep  again,this time in a woven  willow   bucket in the kitchen.
Anyway,why did you call,Stan asked the Vicar.We never got to that.
I can’t remember, the dear old man admitted.I’ll have to come back tonight.
Oh,dear Stan said
I think I’d better put some trousers on, he whispered
Yes,you had said Emile.I can see the Bishop outside.
We’ll have to move,cried Stan.
And so say all of us.
For he’s a hollow bowl  mellow.
Why not pray for us?

THE SECOND COMING by: W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)





by: W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)

URNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
“The Second Coming” is reprinted from Michael Robartes and the Dancer. W.B. Yeats. New York: Macmillan, 1921.

And learn the feeling Arts

Shall we cling to grudges from the past.
Distorting vision;injuring our hearts?
Shall we   loosen that tight grip at last?
Shall we cling to grudges from the past,
When grace is waiting  for all us  poor outcasts?
Soon enough we sinners shall depart
Shall we cling to grudges from the past,
With derision ;injuring our hearts?

Shall we   choose to hold our wounded heart
Yet not retaliate  and hurt this friend or foe?
For  indulged anger grows and  war can  start
Shall we   choose to hold our wounded heart
Contain our rage and  learn the feeling Arts?
For all of us have   traversed Arctic  snow
Shall we   choose to hold our wounded heart
Yet not retaliate  and hurt this once   loved foe?

Loving winter

Winter love comes when we near the end
Yet do not wish for solitude each day.
Cupid wtth his arrows may descend
He jokes with us and invites us out to play.
Winter love may come amidst the snow
When frost bites noses and nips fingers dear.
But despite her  age a woman out may go
To walk her lover and content appear..
The age of frost has not entered my heart
My mind  has  filled with fresh and new desires
The problems come when lovers desperate
Show contempt and start a bitter pyre.
Yet winter love can grip me despite flaws
Hope and laughter circle me uncaused.

Structure of a triolet



A (repeat first line)

a (rhymes with first line)

b (rhymes with second line)

A (repeat first line)

B (repeat second line)

The summer weighs us down with sullen  heat

Even cats and dogs  sit still as stones

Gone are early flowers with fragrance sweet

The summer weighs us down with sullen  heat

The hot flagstones return my angry beat
As people  scurry by ears to their phones.

The summer weighs us down with sullen  heat

Even cats and dogs  sit still as stones

The Langdale Pikes are fearsome to dead hens

The Langdale Pikes are   fearsome to dead hens
Whose feet are used to  engraved  golden  roads
The Langdale Pikes are fearsome unless penned
But from  the heights  you cannot see a toad.

Though mountains  can allure us like a  whore
They cast  huge shadows   onto Network Rail
You cannot tell  a  sculpture,je t’adore
Despite  the  surplus in next Winter’s  Tails

They  test  my soul  with   glue  like a quagmire
One has  to have a head  and a big ass
Sheep   prefer the  local  red-haired deer
Who rescue them when  donkeys  miss the path

Should we learn to    lose our  fear of light
From  the peak we   see all  human blight



Emile pushes Stan out of bed

  • Stan awoke feeling very thirsty.My, this bed is much  too hard,he thought.He put out his hand and felt some wood not far away.It was his desk.Emile was lying on Stan’s stomach purring.
    You fell out of bed,the little cat miaowed.Luckily I clung on with my claws and I am ok sleeping down here….I can see  mice better.
    Well,it’s not ok with me,Stan informed him gently.How can I get up from here?
    He picked up the Cambridge Companion to Sylvia Plath and banged on his desk softly.
    Mary was awake and heard a strange sound.She got up and found Stan lying on the floor with his head by his desk.
    Emile wanted to sleep by the wall,you see.,he told her.
    Then he rolled over and I fell out.



    That is logically and scientifically unsensible,Mary told him.Surely Emile is not so big that his weight was enough to knock you out of the bed? It is against the law of gravityAnyway,why don’t you get up?
    I like it  down here,the old man lied to her optimistically.
    Rubbish,Mary said,then she picked up the phone and rang 999.
    Hello,she said.My cat is very upset as he feels guilty for pushing my  aged husband out of bed.
    How terrible for you,the man answered.I’ll send an ambulance right away.
    Mary opened the front door and left it unlatched whilst she lit the electric lights with a match.
    How do you feel now  Stan,she enquired tying her  red polyester fleece dressing gown a bit tighter before the paramedics arrival
    I am thirsty,give me some brandy,he ordered her politely as he was  full of kindness
    They said not to let you or Emile drink or eat
    Blooming ridiculous,he told her in a manly fashion.
    Soon the ambulance arrived and the paramedics were running up the stairs to see the poor cat. Mary fainted so they laid her on the bed whilst they comforted Emile and cleaned his paws.Then they picked up Stan and laid him right next to Mary,his wife.
    Why don’t you have a bigger bed,one asked Stan.
    Bigger than what,he responded academically.
    Well,if you were any fatter you’d not be able  to lie next to your wife.
    True,he replied but my wife is too large.I keep hoping she will lose weight.
    I shall make you some tea the female paramedic told them forcefully
    Well,you don’t seem to be hurt,the other one told Stan, but the cat may need therapy or counselling because of the guilt he will feel.
    He’s not  a Catholic ,I hope?
    No, he’s Jewish,Stan shouted  implausibly.
    That’s alright then.How do cats get to be Jewish anyhow?
    It’s their souls,Mary said…they are all waiting up there for a suitable place to be reborn and some choose to be cats.
    But how can you tell? he asked wonderingly.They have no prayer shawls
    They miaow in Hebrew,Mary said loftily.And they like to sing the psalms before bed.
    But how do you  know it’s Hebrew,he replied.Do you speak it?
    No, it’s just he hates bacon and pepperoni and always wears a hat so it seems he must be one of Jesus’s friends,but not Judas of course.I suppose Jesus wore a hat but it’s never been found as yet.Not even being sold as a relic.


    Well,that’s intriguing.Do you think Emile might be the Messiah?
    Oh,dear.We never thought of that.Will he have to go to Galilee and catch fish and walk on water?
    No, he can go to Rome and tell the Pope that the Church is not what God planned.
    I hope they don’t kill him,Mary cried sadly.
    God will not be very happy.
    I didn’t know God had moods,Stan said.
    He has post-creative depressive disorder….no wonder when we look round the world.
    Still they did try,I’ll say that for him or her.
    And so say all of us.
    For he’s a very good yeller,he’s a very good yeller
    A cat’s life is a fuss.Miaow.

    Cave 2

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Why do poets use iambic pentameter?



The Fall of Iambic Pentameter

By the end of the Victorian Era (1837-1901), and in the hands of the worst poets, Iambic Pentameter had become little more than an exercise in filling-in-the-blanks. The rules governing the meter were inflexible and predictable. It was time for a change. The poet most credited with making that change is Ezra Pound. Whether or not Pound was, himself, a great poet, remains debatable. Most would say that he was not. What is indisputable is his influence on and associations with poets who were great or nearly great: Yeats, T.S. Eliot (whose poetry he closely edited), Ezra PoundFrost, William Carlos Williams, Marriane Moore. It was Pound who forcefully rejected the all too predictable sing-song patterns of the worst Victorian verse, who helped initiate the writing of free verse among English speaking poets. And the free verse that Pound initiated has become the indisputably dominant verse form of the 20th century and 21st century, more pervasive and ubiquitous than any other verse form in the history of English Poetry – more so than all metrical poems combined. While succeeding generations during the last 100 years, in one way or another, have rejected almost every element of the prior generation’s poetics, none of them have meaningfully questioned their parents’ verse form. The ubiquity and predictability of free verse has become as stifling as Iambic Pentameter during the Victorian era.

But not all poets followed Pound’s lead.

A wonderful thing happened. With the collapse of the Victorian aesthetic, poets who still wrote traditional poetry were also freed to experiment. Robert Frost, William Butler Yeats, E.E. Cummings,Wallace Stevens: Idea of Order at Key WestWallace Stevens all infused Iambic Pentameter with fresh ideas and innovations. Stevens, Frost and Yeats stretched the meter in ways that it hadn’t been stretched since the days of the Elizabethan and Jacobean Dramatists. Robert Frost’s genius for inflection in speech was greatly enhanced by his anapestic variant feet. His poems, The Road Not Taken, and Birches both exhibit his innovative use of anapests to lend his verse a more colloquial feel. The links are to two of my own posts.

T.S. Eliot interspersed passages of free verse with blank verse.

Wallace Stevens, like Thomas Middleton, pushed Iambic Pentameter to the point of dissolution. But Stevens’ most famous poem, The Idea of Order at Key West, is elegant blank verse – as skillfully written as any poem before it.

Yeats also enriched his meter with variant feet that no Victorian poet would have attempted. His great poem,Sailing to Byzantium, is written in blank verse, as is The Second Coming.

Yeats, Frost, Stevens, Eliot, Pound all came of age during the closing years of the Victorian Era. They carry on the tradition of the last 500 years, informed by the innovations of their contemporaries. They were the last. Poets growing up after the moderns have grown up in a century of free verse. As with all great artistic movements, many practitioners of the new free-verse aesthetic were quick to rationalize their aesthetic by vilifying the practitioners of traditionalpoetry. Writers of metrical poetry were accused (and still are) of anti-Americanism (poetry written in meter and rhyme were seen as beholden to British poetry),  patriarchal oppression (on the baseless assertion that meter was a male paradigm),  of moral and ethical corruption. Hard to believe? The preface to Rebel Angels writes:

One of the most notorious attacks upon poets who have the affrontery to use rhyme and meter was Diane Wakoski’s essay, “The New Conservatism in American Poetry” (American Book Review, May-June 1986), which denounced poets as diverse as John Holander, Robert Pinsky, T.S. Eliot, and Robert Frost for using techniques Wakoski considered Eurocentric. She is particularly incensed with younger poets writing in measure.

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