Iambic Pentameter Lyric Poem: Dogs in Snow

What is Iambic Pentameter?

Iambic pentameter is a common rhythm in English speech and verse, based on a series of five pairs of syllables in each line in groups that consist of an unstressed and then a stressed syllable. Each group of two syllables is called a foot. Examples of words that are iambs include: vacate, delete, repair, imply and promote. In fact, the iamb is one of the most common sound patterns in English.

If we represent an unstressed syllable with x and a stressed syllable with /, a line of iambic pentameter can be scanned like this:

x/ x/ x/ x/ x/

The pattern was used by Shakespeare in his plays and sonnets, as demonstrated in these lines:

"When to the sessions of sweet silent thought

x / x / x / x / x /

I summon up remembrance of things past..."

x / x / x / x / x /

Often lines of poetry jump into my mind in iambic pentameter, as these ones did while I was walking the dogs in snow during a spell of Arctic cold front. Because so many words in English fit the rhythm, it is easy to fill out the lines, with an occasional imperfect fit.

Blue ice candles
Blue ice candles | Source

Thompson River Valley in Fog

Golden Grasses, Red Willows and Snow:  a four-hour drive from Vancouver across the Coquihalla Great Bear Snowshed, the arid Thompson River Valley feels like the wild west.
Golden Grasses, Red Willows and Snow: a four-hour drive from Vancouver across the Coquihalla Great Bear Snowshed, the arid Thompson River Valley feels like the wild west. | Source
Border Collie in Snow
Border Collie in Snow | Source
Border Collie X Heeler Ready to Herd
Border Collie X Heeler Ready to Herd | Source
Red Willows Screen Stumps
Red Willows Screen Stumps | Source
Black and White they lap the snow like laughing Buddhas
Black and White they lap the snow like laughing Buddhas

We Know Black Birds by Ear

Black ice on flowing water crystals candling

Clinks. They hiss and brush the frozen fringe

That links dark stream to sand while pups’ black backs,

White shirtfronts, skunk-striped brows and tails that never

Stop run, canter, lope, spring, leap, trot, roll,

And poke patrician profiles in cold powder

To lap the snow like laughing Buddhas whose

Delight expands beyond them rippling on

The current of the day. They herd both birds

And trucks, hunch distant sheep, the instinct in

Their genes to roam afar then circle home

To woman trudging deep in snow. They nudge

And nuzzle, lock eyes and launch anew a lap.

We know these birds by ear. Crows cluster on

Bare trees. They chirp in quiet conversation

Their parliament of fowls as ravens

Glossy perch on deadwood stumps along

The path, or soar in pairs and ride the up-

Drafts circling open water that rise like steam

From foamed-milk little caps on coffee. They drop

Faint distant warbled throaty trills on sand

That sprinkles cinnamon whorls where wind has carved

The dunes in ripples leaving crust. Here walking’s

Gracious, footprints shallow, no trudging halfway

Up the calf in drifts that hold gray shadows

At their heart. Most hugely silver Jazz-

Bird glints in sun and growls to grab the air,

And climbs to flight path, trailing engine roar.

Surprised, the valley echoes then the bowl

Of blue and white is still. In white and blue,

Serene Mt Paul‘s impervious. It’s breath

Hangs in the air. The Domtar plume plumbs vertical,

Its puffy poisoned tail less harmless than

Appears. Along the highest skyline, a crane

In Saturday arrest will dig again

To excavate foundations that may dominate

The view. The current rides the river down.

As ice candles, industry erodes, though all is still.

Toward the confluence of North and South Thompson Rivers.
Toward the confluence of North and South Thompson Rivers. | Source
The sawmill's plume
The sawmill's plume | Source
Crane and train
Crane and train | Source
The fast current pulls the ice downstream.
The fast current pulls the ice downstream. | Source

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Comments 3 comments

Doug Turner Jr. 5 years ago

Wow, snap, crackle, pop. These words beg to be read aloud; full of crisp alliteration and vivid imagery. Very impressed overall.

However, I could have used a more central narrative to hold things together. The pictures and the opening stanza offer the concept of dogs in a cold, wintry climate, that much is clear. But by poem's end -- after being totally engrossed by the immediate verbal rush of the words -- I wasn't sure if I ended up anywhere different than where I started.

Either way, highly enjoyable writing. Thanks and cheers.

Janis Goad profile image

Janis Goad 5 years ago Author

Helpful comment, Doug. You got to the heart of it. The ending may need more revision for a clearer statement and conclusion. I get caught up in the sound and fury of the iambic pentameters and the imagery and neglect the narrative and conflict.

Doug Turner Jr. 5 years ago

Janis, glad you took consideration. I usually test the waters before leaving critical feedback, but I figured someone who could compose this could handle a clinical assessment. Again, very enjoyable writing. Peace.

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