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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.
Thompson River Valley in Fog
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.