Definition of Trimeter

Trimeter is a poetic device that is defined as a meter or a line that consists of three iambic feet. It is one of the five main types of iamb. An iamb is a foot that contains an unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable.

Let us take these lines to understand:

“Is like a pleasant sleep,/ Wherein I rest and heed/ The Dreams that by me sweep.”

(The Idle Life I Lead, by Robert Bridges)

Apart from poetry, one can also find examples of trimeter in the dialogues of comedic and tragic plays.

Types of Iamb Meter

Trimeter is one of the five types of iamb meter, which are:

  1. Iambic dimeter (contains two iambs in each line)

“The way a crow
Shook down on me…”

(Dust of Snow, by Robert Frost)

  1. Iambic trimeter (contains three iambs in each line)

“I love the jocund dance,
The softly breathing song…”

(I Love the Jocund Dance, by William Blake)

  1. Iambic tetrameter (contains four iambs in each line)

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both…”

(The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost)

  1. Iambic pentameter (contains five iambs in each line)

“Her vestal livery is but sick and green
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.”

(Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare)

  1. Iambic hexameter (contains six iambs in each line)

“He had adorned and hid the coming bulk of death…”

(Adonais, by Percy Bysshe Shelly)

Examples of Trimeter in Literature

Example #1: 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 a good example of iambic trimeter, in which the lines have three iambs or three metrical feet. Normally, the extract contains six syllables in each line, with the pattern of iambic trimeter. Here, the trimeter pattern is in bold.

Example #2: When I Was One-and-Twenty (By E. Housman)

“When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
‘Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.”
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.”

Among the poems that can be considered as good trimeter examples is E. Housman’s When I Was One-and-Twenty. Houseman follows a perfect pattern of trimeter in this poem. The pattern lends regular beats and rhythm to the poem.

Example #3: My Papa’s Waltz (By Theodore Roethke)

“We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother’s countenance
Could not unfrown itself.”

This whole excerpt is following the pattern of trimeter. The lines are very short. With iamb trimeter, it has a regular pattern and rhythmical sense.

Example #4: Verses Supposed to be Written (By Alexander Selkirkby William Cowper)

“From the centre all round to the sea,
I am lord of the fowl and the brute.
Oh, solitude! where are the charms
Better dwell in the midst of alarms
I am out of humanity’s reach,
I must finish my journey alone,
Never hear the sweet music of speech
They are so unacquainted with man,
Their tameness is shocking to me…”

This poem is a fine example of a combination of iambic trimeter and anapestic meter. At different places trimeter is replaced by anapestic trimeter.

Example #5: The Divine Image (By William Blake)

“To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love,
All pray in their distress:
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.”

This poem follows an alternating trimeter and iambic tetrameter pattern. The first and third lines represent iambic tetrameter, whereas the second and fourth lines are written in trimeter pattern.

Function of Trimeter

The main function of trimeter is to create regular beats and rhythm in a literary text. However, it is also useful to achieve heightened formality in dramas when used as normal speech. Since trimeter creates a regular rhythm, it lends formality and high drama to a text. Hence, the basic purpose of using this pattern is to create a beautiful poetic work, and produce a greatly emotional experience. In addition, it helps to make a piece of art more artistic by producing a regular rhythm. Poetry, comedies, and Greek tragedies often use this device.