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Iambic Pentameter

Iambic Pentameter…of Sorts

Ahem. Clear your throats, awesome readers, because we're about to make you read out loud. Come on, you can do it. Okay, ready? Give this one a try:

They flee from me that sometime did me seek.

How'd that feel? Probably pretty good, right? That line has a nice, regular rhythm to it, and when you read it aloud, it's hard not to fall into the beat. This particular rhythm is a meter called iambic pentameter, and it's one of the most common rhythms you'll see in English poetry.

Iambic pentameter is a bit of a mouthful, but all it means is that this line can be divided into five groups or feet (that's the pentameter part), which each contain an iamb. What's an iamb, you ask? Well, it's an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, like "they flee" or "me seek."

Of course, if the whole poem followed this meter exactly, that might get a little boring after a while, don't you think? Imagine reading twenty-one lines of da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM. It's enough to make a person go crazy.

Luckily, Wyatt has a solution for this problem – metrical variation. Sometimes, he'll pop in something different from an iamb, just to keep us on our toes. Take line 2, which we can scan like this: With na-ked foot stalk-ing in my cham-ber. You will notice that the third foot ("stalk-ing") begins with a stressed syllable and is followed by an unstressed syllable. This type of foot (stressed, unstressed) is called a "trochee." There's one more trochee in line 2. Can you find it?

Another way he varies the meter is by changing the number of syllables in the line. A line of strict iambic pentameter has to have ten syllables, but sometimes Wyatt will lop off a syllable somewhere to add a little spice. Line 3 is a good example: Ihave seen them gent-le tame and meek. The first foot only contains one syllable – I. This is perfectly acceptable in poetry, and it's called catalexis (just think of a cat driving a Lexus). It is the process by which a syllable is chopped off from the beginning or end of a line of poetry. Some people just refer to it as a headless line, although that's a little creepy if you ask Shmoop.

Of course, this is just a tiny taste of all the metrical variation Wyatt tosses in the poem. He's got all kinds of interesting things going on, so read it aloud to yourself a time or two to see what you come up with.

A Rhyme Fit for a King

This poem has a rhyme scheme, too. And before you go thinking that means it's plotting something sinister, a rhyme scheme just refers to the pattern of rhymes that come at the end of the lines of a poem. Think of it as a map that shows you what rhymes with what. And once you figure out that rhyme scheme, you can use it to help predict and analyze what's coming next in the poem.

The rhyme scheme for Wyatt's poem is: ABABBCC. This means that each stanza has seven lines; the first and third lines rhyme, the second, fourth, and fifth lines rhyme, and the sixth and seventh rhyme. As it turns out, this is a very particular kind of form invented by one of Wyatt's heroes: Geoffrey Chaucer, whom many believe to be the founder of English poetry as we know it. It's called rhyme royal (sounds fancy, right?), and Chaucer used it all over the place, including in his most famous work, The Canterbury Tales.

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