Study Guide

Sonnet 94 Form and Meter

By William Shakespeare

Form and Meter

Shakespearean Sonnet

It's called a sonnet, and it's written by Shakespeare. We know, we know—resist the urge to say duh. Then, allow Shmoop to help you out with a handy breakdown of this popular form.

This type of sonnet falls into four major sections, rhyming ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. The first three sections are known as quatrains 1-3, and the last section is known as the couplet. And as you can see from the rhyme scheme we just laid out, the Shakespearean sonnet lends itself most naturally to the poet working out a different idea in each of the three quatrains, and then summing everything up in the couplet. By and large, Sonnet 94 follows this pattern: talking about powerful people in lines 1-4, what the powerful people get in lines 5-8, the summer's flower in lines 9-12, and the fates of people and flowers in lines 13-14.

So much for the poem's form. What about its meter? The meter of Shakespeare's sonnets (and his plays) is everyone's old favorite: iambic pentameter. Classic. This term is definitely a mouthful, but it's not so hard once we break it down. Let's start with the word "pentameter." The "-meter" part is easy. That just means some way of dividing up or measuring (in the sense of a "measure" in music) the words in the poetic line. As for the "penta-" part, that just comes from the Greek word for "five."
So a "pentameter" is a line that is divided into five sections or feet.

As for "iambic," that just means that each of those measures, or "feet," is going to follow a certain rhythm, known as an iamb. An iamb is made up of two syllables: the first syllable is lightly accented and the second syllable is strongly accented, giving the rhythm daDUM.

To see this rhythm in action, let's take a look at a line from the poem

That do not do the thing they most do show, (2)

Hear that daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM? That's iambic pentameter in action folks, and it's a beautiful thing.

Of course, it would be pretty boring to have every single line of your poem follow the same rhythm. Poets with mad skills tend to mix things up a bit, for example by taking one of the iambs and replacing it with a trochee, or the opposite of an iamb (DAdum). Sometimes seeing where the rhythm has flipped is a matter of interpretation. In Shmoop's humble opinion, the first foot of line 8 is flipped into a trochee, giving us the following rhythm:

others but stewards of their excellence. (8)

That trochee emphasizes the otherness of those others. We know right off the bat that we're switching gears a bit, to shift the focus from the powerful people to the lesser ones—the ones to watch out for.

So there you have it. That said, to really get a sense of the full range of Shakespeare's rhythmical effects, try reading the poem to yourself a few times out loud (you could even try to memorize it). You'll probably find bits of cool language rhythms coming back into your thoughts when you least expect it.