What Is Unrhymed Iambic Pentameter?

G. Wiesen

Unrhymed iambic pentameter is a particular type of meter that can be used in a poem or other written work. The fact that it is unrhymed simply means that the words within and between each line do not have to rhyme, though some internal rhyming may occur and still keep the overall work from being in any particular rhyme scheme. Much like rhyming iambic pentameter, this meter consists of individual lines that are each made up of five “feet” indicated by the prefix “penta-” in the name. Unrhymed iambic pentameter uses the iambic system, which means that each foot is made up of two syllables, one unstressed and the other stressed.

William Shakespeare used unrhymed iambic pentameter in many of his plays, thus providing his actors with an aural impact.
William Shakespeare used unrhymed iambic pentameter in many of his plays, thus providing his actors with an aural impact.

Many poems are written with a particular meter, such as unrhymed iambic pentameter, which indicates the overall flow that the poem should have when read. Meter simply refers to the basic structure of the poem and how each line is created. Poems written in free verse typically do not have a set meter, though other poetic devices and rhyme schemes can still be present. A poem that is written in an unrhymed meter simply does not use rhyme schemes, though occasional internal rhymes may occur.

There are many different types of meter, and unrhymed iambic pentameter uses a meter in which each line consists of five feet. A poem written in hexameter would consist of lines each made up of six feet, and a poem in octameter would have eight feet per line. The actual feet of each line can be created in a number of different ways, depending on the particular metric style used for the poem.

This meter utilizes the iambic style, and this indicates the number and orientation of stressed and unstressed syllables in each foot. The iambic style features a single unstressed and a single stressed syllable per foot, usually with the unstressed first followed by the stressed syllable. This is often described or depicted as “ta TUM | ta TUM | ta TUM | ta TUM | ta TUM” in which the “ta” indicates an unstressed syllable and “TUM” indicates a stressed one. An example of iambic pentameter would be “The cat awaits the day of fish and mice” in which the stresses would occur as “the CAT | aWAITS | the DAY | of FISH | and MICE.”

This type of unrhymed iambic pentameter was used a great deal by the English poet and playwright William Shakespeare. Many of Shakespeare’s sonnets used iambic pentameter and a structure that included a simple rhyme scheme. In his plays, however, he often eschewed rhymes but continued to write lines in iambic pentameter for greater aural impact when delivered by his actors.

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There are dozens of forms of poetry. Most people have probably heard of free verse, iambic pentameter, haiku, sonnet and limerick. But there is also echo verse, renga, tanka, triolet, rondeua and more. They all have their own meter and rhyming schemes.

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