Meter is the regular rhythmic pattern of a poem. In English, the units of rhythm are rather simple - speech may be broken down into patterns of stressed and unstressed beats (that is, stressed and unstressed syllables). The basic unit of rhythm in a poem is the foot, consisting of either two or three of these beats. Don't worry too much about the foot. It's just cool to know.

Iambic pentameter is one of the most common types of meter, or metrical schemes. The word pentameter is used because the line is broken up into five feet. An iamb is a poetic foot consisting of one unstressed beat followed by a stressed one, and is often given the notation "|u x|," where u is the unstressed beat and x the stressed one (for example, "to-DAY". An example of how iambic pentameter is read would be:

| i WANT| to GO | to REST | au RANT | this EVE |

Other common types of feet are the trochee, a stressed beat followed by an unstressed one "|x u|" ("SWEET-ner"), and the spondee, two stressed beats in succession "|x x|" ("LET'S GO").

Earlier poets were far more concerned than contemporary ones with meter. Many poets wrote almost their entire body of work in a very limited number of metrical schemes. Shakespeare, for example, wrote his sonnets and the poetic language of his plays in iambic pentameter.

Iambic pentameter is one of the most common metrical schemes in English, because it sounds the most like ordinary speech. However, much of twentieth-century poetry has been written in a style without a carefully observed meter, called free verse. If you like, call it slacker poetry. Rules, shmules.

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