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How to Write a Poem in Iambic Pentameter

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Published on Aug 18, 2010

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The most common meter in poetry, iambic pentameter is famously associated with William Shakespeare. Here's how you can rhyme like a modern-day bard.

Step 1: Know feet
Know that an iamb is a rhythmic unit called a foot and is a combination of unstressed and stressed syllables. One word with two syllables, like "instead," could be an iamb, or two monosyllabic words could be an iamb, like "she wants."

Step 2: Know meter
Understand that pentameter is a meter that means the iamb is repeated five times. So iambic pentameter is a line of poetry with five iambs.

Tip
Use this famous line from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night as a guide: "If music be the food of love, play on."

Step 3: Choose a rhyme scheme
Choose a rhyme scheme, like ABAB. Each letter represents the ending sound of the line, so ABAB means the first line rhymes with the third, and the second line rhymes with the fourth.

Step 4: Write four lines
Draw a row of five short lines on your paper. Write one iamb – one unstressed syllable and one stressed – on each line until you have 10 syllables in iambic pentameter.

Step 5: Repeat
Repeat for the next three lines, making sure the last syllable of line one rhymes with the end of line three, and the end of line two rhymes with the end of line four.

Step 6: Expand to a sonnet
Expand the four lines to create a sonnet, which comprises fourteen lines of iambic pentameter. The Shakespearean sonnet typically has a rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.

Tip
The four lines together in a sonnet are called a quatrain, while the ending two lines are called a rhyming couplet.

Step 7: Study famous poets
Study the works of great poets who used the form, including Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Did You Know?
Did you know? Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and 154 sonnets.

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