Definition of Iamb

An iamb is a literary device that can be defined as a foot containing unaccented and short syllables, followed by a long and accented syllable in a single line of a poem (unstressed/stressed syllables). Two of Robert Frost’s poems, Dust of Snow, and The Road Not Taken are considered two of the most popular examples of iamb.

Types of Iambic Meter

Iamb examples may be classified according to the following five types:

  • Iambic dimeter (two iambs per line)
  • Iambic trimester (three iambs per line)
  • Iambic tetrameter (four iambs per line)
  • Iambic pentameter (five iambs per line)
  • Iambic hexameter (alexandrine; six iambs per line)

Examples of Iamb in Literature

Poets have written a number of poems in regular meters, and iambic meter is widely used in several of them.

Example #1: Dust of Snow (By Robert Frost)

“The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of Mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.”

This is an example of iambic dimeter, which has two metrical feet, shown in bold, in each line. The rhyme scheme of each stanza is called interlocking rhyme. Also, there are some anapestic feet, but most feet are in iambic dimeter.

Example #2: The Only News I Know (By Emily Dickinson)

“The only news I know
Is bulletins all day
From Immortality.
The only shows I see,
Tomorrow and Today,
Perchance Eternity.”

This excerpt is an example of iambic trimeter, where lines have three metrical feet or three iambs. Generally, there are six syllables in the lines with three iambs.

Example #3: I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud (By William Wordsworth)

“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.
Beside the lake, beneath the Trees …
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive Mood,
They flash upon that inward eye …
And dances with the daffodils.”

This is an example of iambic tetrameter, which consists of four iambic feet, or iambic beats, in each line. These metrical feet give a regular rhythm to the poem due to consistent patterns of accented and unaccented beats.

Example #4: The Road not Taken (By Robert Frost)

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better Claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by.”

This poem is also a very good example of iambic tetrameter. Each line contains four iambic beats. Since iamb refers to an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, iambic tetrameter comprises of four such feet in a line.

Example #5: Romeo and Juliet (By William Shakespeare)

“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 …”

This excerpt is an example of iambic pentameter, which is the most commonly used meter in poetry and verse. It consists of five iambic feet in a line, as shown in bold here. Shakespeare is very famous for using this type of meter in his plays and poems.

Example #6: Macbeth (By William Shakespeare)

“Henceforth be earls, the first that ever Scotland
In such an honour named. What’s more to do …
As calling home our exiled friends abroad …
Of this dead butcher and his fiend-like queen,
Who, as ’tis thought, by self and violent hands …
That calls up on us, by the grace of Grace …
So, thanks to all at once and to each one,
Whom we in vite to see us crown’d at Scone.”

Here, we have another perfect example of iambic pentameter. There are five iambic feet in each line. It is giving the poem a sense of rhythm, and it also has a perfect rhyme scheme due to its regular beats.

Function of Iamb

The basic function of iambic meter is to create a speech that should have a regular pattern. It functions to make a normal speech fit into heightened formality and dramatic form. Since it gives a rhythmic sense, it lends the text high drama and formality. Hence, the main purpose of iambic meter is to give highly emotional experience, and makes a piece of work beautifully poetic.

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