Iambic is defined as poetic verse that is made up of iambs, which are metrical “feet” with two syllables. In certain types of iambic poetry, each line consists of one or more iambs.
Iambs: The Basis of Iambic Poetry
The first syllable in an iamb is unaccented and the second is accented. Here are some examples of iambs:
- the one
- we played
- you know
- I can’t
Examples of Iambic Trimeter
When you combine three iambs, you can create poetry in iambic trimeter. Here are examples:
The only news I know
Is bulletins all day
The only shows I see,
Tomorrow and Today,
When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
‘Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother’s countenance
Could not unfrown itself.
-Theodore Roethke: “My Papa’s Waltz”
I love the jocund dance,
The softly breathing song,
Where innocent eyes do glance,
And where lisps the maiden’s tongue.
-Song by William Blake
The idle life I lead
Is like a pleasant sleep,
Wherein I rest and heed
The dreams that by me sweep.
Examples of Iambic Tetrameter
Poetry that consists of four iambs are iambic tetrameter. For example:
I wandered, lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er dales and hills
When, all at once, I saw a crowd
A host of golden daffodils.
There is a lady sweet and kind,
Was never face so pleased my mind;
I did but see her passing by,
And yet I love her till I die.
The hills, the meadows, and the lakes,
Enchant not for their own sweet sakes.
They cannot know, they cannot care
To know that they are thought so fair.
-Henry Leigh “Not Quite Fair”
Of Neptune’s empire let us sing,
At whose command the waves obey;
-Thomas Campion “A Hymn in Praise of Neptune”
Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove;
-Alfred Lord Tennyson “In Memoriam A.H.H.”
Examples of Iambic Pentameter
Poetry with five iambs are iambic pentameter. Here are examples:
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;
-Anne Bradstreet “To My Dear and Loving Husband”
In Oxford there once lived a rich old lout
Who had some guest rooms that he rented out,
-Geoffrey Chaucer “The Miller’s Tale”
But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
-Shakespeare “Romeo and Juliet”
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,
-John Keats “Ode to Autumn”
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain — and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
-Robert Frost “Acquainted with the Night”
Now you have many different examples of iambs and when you read literature or poems you will be better able to recognize the iambs that you see and how they combine into poetic verse.