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post Mar 27 06, 21:18
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Ornate Oracle

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Real Name: Elizabeth
Writer of: Poetry
Referred By:Lori Kanter



Standard Substitutions in Strict Iambic Pentameter


I had occasion a few days ago to work up a list of the acceptable substitutions in strict iambic pentameter with examples. All the examples of the first three types are from Shakespeare's sonnets; the Roman numeral following each line identifies the sonnet from which it was taken. I thought it might be useful, so here 'tis:

There are 4 basic substitutions which are considered acceptable in standard iambic pentameter in current practice:

1. trochee--substituted in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th foot of a pentameter line. There are problems with a trochee substituted as the 5th foot in rhyming poetry, because it throws off the rhyme, but 5th foot trochees do occur occasionally in blank verse.

Trochee Substitutions:

a. 1st foot: Wishing me like to one more rich in hope (XXIX)
/ WISH ing/ me LIKE/ to ONE/ more RICH/ in HOPE/
/ trochee/ iamb/ iamb/ iamb/ iamb/

b. 2nd foot: Might I not then say, "Now I love you best" (CXV)
/ might I/ NOT then/ SAY NOW/ i LOVE/ you BEST/
/ iamb/ trochee/ spondee/ iamb/ iamb/

c. 3rd foot: And trouble deaf heav'n with my bootless cries (XXIX)
/ and TROUB/ le DEAF/ HEAV'N with/ my BOOT/ less CRIES/
/ iamb/ iamb/ trochee/ iamb/ iamb/

d. 4th foot: Thou of thyself thy sweet self dost deceive (IV)
/ THOU of/ thy SELF/ thy SWEET/ SELF dost/ de CEIVE/
/ trochee/ iamb/ iamb/ trochee/ iamb/

2. spondee--substituted in any foot in a pentameter line.

Spondee Substitutions:

a. 1st foot: No more be grieved at that which thou hast done (XXXV)
/ NO MORE/ be GRIEVED/ at THAT/ which THOU/ hast DONE/
/ spondee/ iamb/ iamb/ iamb/ iamb/

b. 2nd foot: Gilding pale streams with heav'nly alchemy (XXXIII)
/ GILD ing/ PALE STREAMS/ with HEAV'n/ ly AL/ che MY/
/ trochee/ spondee/ iamb/ iamb/ iamb/

c. 3rd foot: From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate (XXIX)
/ from SUL/ len EARTH/ SINGS HYMNS/ at HEA/ ven's GATE/
/ iamb/ iamb/ spondee/ iamb/ iamb/

d. 4th foot: To say within thine own deep-sunken eyes (II)
/ to SAY/ with IN/ thine OWN/ DEEP SUNK/ en EYES/
/ iamb/ iamb/ iamb/ spondee/ iamb/

e. 5th foot: For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings (XXIX)
/ for THY/ sweet LOVE/ re MEM/ ber'd SUCH/ WEALTH BRINGS/
/ iamb/ iamb/ iamb/ iamb/ spondee/

3. double iamb--the combination of a pyrrhic foot followed by a spondaic foot. This can be substituted anywhere in a pentameter line, as 1st & 2nd feet, 2nd & 3rd, 3rd & 4th, or 4th & 5th.

Double Iamb Substitutions:

a. 1st &2nd feet: When that churl Death my bones with dust shall cover (XXXII)
/ when that/ CHURL DEATH/ my BONES/ with DUST/ shall COV/ [er]
{/ pyrrhic/ spondee/= double iamb} / iamb/ iamb/ iamb/ [hypermetrical unstressed syllable]*
*[hypermetrical syllables are extra--i. e., beyond the normal 10 syllables--which are unstressed; such extra unstressed syllables at the end of a line are considered perfectly acceptable]

b. 2nd & 3rd feet: Within thine own bud buriest thy content (I)
/ with IN/ thine own/ BUD BUR/ iest THY/ con TENT/
/ iamb/ {pyrrhic/ spondee = double iamb}/ iamb/ iamb/

c. 3rd & 4th feet: To dry the rain on my storm-beaten face (XXXIV)
/ to DRY/ the RAIN/ on my/ STORM BEAT/ en FACE/
/ iamb/ iamb/ {pyrrhic/ spondee = double iamb}/ iamb/

d. 4th & 5th feet: But as the marigold at the sun's eye (XXV)
/ but AS/ the MAR/ i GOLD/ at the/ SUN'S EYE/
/ iamb/ iamb/ iamb/ { pyrrhic/ spondee = double iamb}

All three of these were known and practiced from the earliest days of sonnetwriting in English, in the second half of the 16th century. All three of them can be found regularly in Shakespeare. What's especially important to remember are two points:

(a) The "double iamb" (also called the "double ionic") is counted not as a substitution but as if it were actually two regular iambs.
(b) The number of substitutions must always be lower than the number of actual iambs in a line; that's why it's important to count a double iamb as two iambs, because you sometimes find lines such as Keats'

"Hold like rich garners the full ripen'd grain"

which scans as

/ HOLD like/ RICH GAR/ ners the/ FULL RI/ pen'd GRAIN/
/ trochee/ spondee/ {pyrrhic/ spondee/ = double iamb} iamb/

Our sense of this line is that it IS iambic, even though it contains only one actual iamb. However, in recognizing the double iamb occupying the 3rd & 4th feet, we see that there are actually 3 iambs here and only 2 substitutions, so the iambic normative meter is maintained.

There is a 4th substitution that is now also considered acceptable in strict IP, one that's been recognized only in the 20th century:

4. the acephalous or "headless" iamb--An iamb with the first unstressed syllable omitted.

"Running down the corridors of night"

This scans as:

/ ^ RUN/ ning DOWN/ the COR/ ri DORS/ of NIGHT/
/ headless iamb/ iamb/ iamb/ iamb/ iamb/

(the carat symbol ^ is used to denote the omitted syllable)

Headless Iamb Substitution:

The obsolete, redundant. We are sunk
Deep in things. That hermit crab, the soul (from "Moving Sale" by A. E. Stallings)

/ the OB/ so LETE/ re DUN/ dant WE/ are SUNK/
/ iamb/ iamb/ iamb/ iamb/ iamb/
/ ^ DEEP/ in THINGS/ that HER/ mit CRAB/ the SOUL/
/ headless iamb/ iamb/ iamb/ iamb/ iamb/

Additional examples:

Mark Jarman, "Unholy Sonnet 13":
Blessedness--not only in a face
/ ^ BLESS/ ed NESS/ not ON/ ly IN/ a FACE/

Hayden Carruth, Sonnets: "2":
Woman, I'm not sure of much. Are you?
/ ^ WO/ man I'M/ not SURE/ of MUCH/ are YOU/

Dana Gioia, "Sunday Night in Santa Rosa":
Wind sweeps ticket stubs along the walk
/ ^ WIND/ sweeps TICK/ et STUBS/ a LONG/ the WALK/

Don Paterson, "The Thread":
All that trouble just to turn up dead
/ ^ ALL/ that TROUB/ le JUST/ to TURN/ up DEAD/

Karen Volkman, "Sonnet":
silence whitens every bright array
/ ^ SI/ lence WHIT/ ens EV/ ry BRIGHT/ ar RAY/

There are also a couple of points to remember about the use of the headless iamb:

(a) Its first use should normally be in line 2 or later or a poem; the reader has to be able to see its use against an established background of iambic pentameter or he may easily read the line as trochaic.

(b) Its use should be restricted only to the 1st foot of a given line, not in any later feet. There are those who disagree with this approach, but I've found very, very few headless iambs used anywhere else in a line that worked--such lines always limp, to my ear.

The situation is more complicated than this, of course, when you start taking differing stress levels into account, because not all stressed syllables are stressed equally, but as a basic outline what I've given here is hopefully useful to those coming to grips with strict IP for the first time.



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