The Basic Form of Iambic Pentameter

Everyone needs to start at the beginning! The biggest mistake made by poets when starting off in structured work is the want to rush in. Admittedly, some are capable but many are not. Regardless, one should always look that the basics first, even if as a refresher.

All sonnets written in English are metered, and the meter is iambic pentameter. Nothing else is acceptable, especially for the traditional sonnets.

For those starting out, there is a simple formula. At first it may appear restrictive, but once this basic form of the meter has been mastered, then and *only then* will a whole new world of variations be open to you.

Iambic Pentameter in its Basic Form

Each line must have exactly ten syllables. The stress pattern must be da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM.

To practice, you must read your lines out loud stressing every second syllable. You will quickly find that certain words cannot be used at the beginning or end of a line. Although the lines may sound strange when doing this, the stressed syllables should not sound obviously wrong or awkward in their pronunciation.

For example:

Once upon a time in a distant land.

This line has ten syllable, let’s break it up into alternating stresses.

once UP | on A | time IN | a DIS | tant LAND

Reading this out loud, we find the word upon incorrectly stressed, it is the second syllable that is stressed, not the first. The remainder are fine stress-wise, perhaps there are stresses on words that we prefer not to be like a and in, but we will address things like that later.

Our conclusion is that this line is not iambic pentameter. It doesn’t sound correct and our tendency would be to stress once. Things like this may be possible later, but *not now.

In times of old, there was a distant land.

Not the most poetic line, but serves the purpose. It too has ten syllables. Now breaking this into the stress pattern:

in TIMES | of OLD | there WAS | a DIS | tant LAND

You will notice something very different here. Apart from the stressing, it sounds and flows very well. For our purpose this will be iambic pentameter.

Bear in mind, this is the most basic form. It is not too complicated, and if you continue to study this meter you will find that it can become very detailed. There are many things to take into account such as different pronunciations of words and the differing stresses. In this type of analysis, we consider only two types; unstressed and stressed. You will find later that many lines are not actually perfect iambic, but they do not violate the overall iambic pentameter nature of the poem.

What you need to do.

Obviously practice writing ten syllable lines with the desired stress. You might decide to use one and two-syllable words to get the idea. Keeps things simple to start with, there is plenty of time for the rest.

What is Life?

Each heartbeat sings the rhythm of my thoughts:
 My thoughts of you, throughout the hours of day,
 Then comes the night, perhaps a dream of sorts —
 My innermost desires seek to play.
Mine felix culpa! Happy faults betray
 Desiderata — How I thirst for you!
 At times emotions well, such sorrows weigh
 So heavily; I know not what to do.
Cruel questions! May not answers misconstrue
 The truth that Future hides behind its door,
 And feigns to Present how it never knew
 What was to come; what Life had held in store.
But what is life if we could always see?
Complaints befall; no better would life be.
Ferrick Gray
© 2017

The Sonneteers

The Evolution of XIV

Everything changes over time, and so it is with XIV. This site will still contain all forms of structured poetry, but will now have a special section for the sonnets. Only three styles of sonnet will be posted in this section; Petrarchan, Shakespearean and Spenserian. For those of you who wish to try your hand at these styles, we will also be including tutorials and discussions.

Prepare for the sonnet revival!


I wonder oft’ where butterflies would hide,
 When night calls back the colors of the day.
Perhaps they flee, and on the zephyrs ride —
 In secret bathe in rainbows locked away,
Their presence from the touch of night denied.
The sun when setting imitates the call,
 Her colors fade in brightness, darkened hues
Seep ‘long horizons wide as Nature’s shawl
 Drapes caref’ly o’r her head. Let dark diffuse
To coax the stars to shine, to dance — enthrall!
The color of the moon, though sunlight kissed,
 Fairs not as brightly in the dawning sky —
‘Tis only for a time the colors missed
 Will once again call forth the butterfly:
The sun will rise for Nature will insist.
Be gone the night! Behold the rising sun!
 Her colors spill across the naked morn
With Nature’s palette fresh as colors run,
 All’s fresh, resplendent as the day is born, —
Stars wink and coyly vanish, one by one.
The ev’ning star adopts a shade of pale —
 Remains to watch the glory of the day,
Yet though she pines, all’s lost? To no avail
 As ‘cross her face, the hint of white clouds stray
And billow as a ship leaves sands — Set sail
Upon the wind, sweet butterfly of blue —
 Caress the mem’ry one could n’er forget!
Fly to me — Loose your beauty through
 This veil of wonder. Nature shall beget
Your shades of blue, and fall in love with you.

Ferrick Gray
© 2017

Mellifluous Her Song

Sweet nightingale who mourns her dying beau,
Mellifluous, the song she sings for he —
Acceptance for reasons he must go,
She sings her psalm of love to see him free.
How can a song of sorrow make its way
From breaking hearts into the waiting night?
How could a song of beauty e’r delay,
The call of death, or circumstance rewrite.
But hidden in this melody of sorrow,
Doth hide her answer to the Maker’s call,
And she shall n’er be lonely on the morrow,
For He will heal her heartache, loss and all.
 If ever love as this were blessed ‘pon me,
 Foul Death would shun love’s immortality.
Ferrick Gray
© 2017

Phoebe and the Wolf

 So long ago — So many years have passed
 Since Phoebe with her beauty, form and grace,
 Walked freely through the darkness that was cast
 Upon the forest dwellers. Dressed in lace
 And finery, each sought her sweet embrace
 And company to wile away the night —
 ’Twas such a pleasure in this somber place.
 She loved them all, and darkness would take flight
When Phoebe smiled. Her heart was true — so shone her light.
 Each night the forest nymphs would gather round
 And seat themselves ‘pon anything they may
 Desiring to indulge in sight and sound,
 To listen to her stories — what she’d say,
 Each mesmerized and none would ever stray —
 They’d hang upon each word from tender lips
 Until the creeping rays of breaking day.
 Another in the darkness, sits and sips
Her words to quench his thirst — sweet honeyed nectar drips.
 The wolf, he loved young Phoebe with a heart
 That burned with passion — How he wanted her,
 And felt so lonely when she would depart,
 To wait throughout the day and so incur
 The wrath that filled his heart as if it were
 A dagger, cold and sharp, to twist and tear
 With ev’ry aching pulse, thus hate would stir.
 But was it love or lust? He didn’t care —
He only knew, this pain, was more than he could bear.
 Then came the night as Phoebe made her way,
 With beauty, form and grace that kissed the night;
 There sate the wolf, who eyed her as his prey
 And bared his teeth, he snarled — she stopped in fright,
 As want dripped from his mouth. He wouldn’t fight
 His primal urge to kill this maiden fair
 And took her in his jaws. Her life — His bite.
 But was it love or lust? He didn’t care —
He only knew, this pain, was more than he could bear.
 Her blood ran free as Heaven cried in pain,
 And angels swift descend to hallowed ground.
 The wolf, he backs away from her he’d slain —
 His eyes afire, in silence stood. No sound
 Was uttered as they bathed this beauty crowned,
 To wash away the stain of hate despite
 His love for her? In jealousy he drowned!
 She loved them all, and darkness would take flight
When Phoebe smiled. Her heart was true — so shone her light.
 The wolf now walks in dark, but Phoebe shines,
 And nymphs that sat with her, from he now flee,
 For fear that death will come whene’er he pines,
 But unbeknown to him, the light they see —
 The moon so bright, she keeps their company
 For this is Phoebe, Heaven’s sainted maid
 Who looks upon the forest dwellers free.
 The wolf, he realizes — want has paid
A price and bays the waning moon — his love mislaid.
Ferrick Gray
© 2016

Child of Mine

I wondered if those starry eyes I saw
Were happiness or tears reflecting hope;
‘Tis strange, I’d never seen this child before,
Her eyes, her face; emotions fail to cope
With this, this gorgeous child with ample scope
To prove her love, but love is not returned
By one who should know better; love is spurned.
Her eyes, they search the answer to her why
And anger strikes, within my heart to grow;
Her wanting, searching heart, that bitter sigh
Of love discarded, tears begin to flow
Down freckled cheeks, their hurt pounds blow by blow,
This little child defeated, can she rise
Above the pain I see through teary eyes.
Without an answer coming, lost to he
Who stands before this treasure, hair of gold
And sorrowed eyes of blue that turn to me
Acknowledging my presence, eyes that hold
My heart and knowing without being told.
I smile, she smiles, perhaps our hearts align,
To heal her pain, I wish this child was mine.
Ferrick Gray
© 2015