Why do poets use iambic pentameters


The Pentameter is an ancient verse made up of six feet of verse. Basically, the pentameter consists of six dactyls(one rise, two falls), whereby after the third and sixth dactyl both indentations are omitted. As a result, the third and fourth uplift in the pentameter immediately follow one another, which is known as the uplift rebound (→ meter).

The term can be derived from the Greek (pente ~ five, metron ~ measure) and translate it with five measures. The translation of the word is, however, misleading, since the meter is made up of six accents. So it is quite similar to the hexameter, albeit a little more strictly defined metrically. Now let's look at the structure. The uplifts, downsides and the caesura (||) have been marked.

–Υυ | –υυ | - || –Υυ | –υυ | -(Pentameter)

The above example shows that first two complete dactyls follow one another in the pentameter, the third is shortened and consists only of a single elevation, whereupon the caesura follows and the whole thing is then repeated. If a verse foot is incomplete, this fact is called catalectic and when two uplifts are side by side, we speak of an uplift rebound. Both are available here.

Wasihrhi | nonot | laid down, || pull them | never | out.

This verse comes from the Xenia, a joint work by Goethe and Schiller. The obvious structure of the pentameter is strictly adhered to: three dactyls, the last being monosyllabic catalectic, the caesura with elevation impact and again three dactyls, the last remaining monosyllabic catalectic.

The ancient metric however, counted five feet of verse in the pentameter and not six, which explains the name of the verse. This most likely happened through an incorrect measurement across the diaeresis, i.e. the incision between two meters, whereby we then have to understand the pentameter as the union of two dactyls, a spondeus and two anapastes, which would look like this:

–Υυ | –υυ | –– | υυ– | υυ– |

Note: In German, however, the first variant has prevailed. However, there are still a few peculiarities that sometimes make it difficult to recognize the pentameter at first glance. This is primarily due to the trochaeus and spondeus, some of which are used.

Spondeus and trochee in the pentameter

The ancient verse is very clearly defined metrically. In order to prevent monotony, the approach was already taken back then to replace some of the dactyls with the spondeus, a foot of verse that consists of two stressed syllables. In German it is mostly replaced by the trochäus.

This means that it is generally allowed in the pentameter to replace the first and second dactylus, i.e. the two complete verse feet before the caesura, with spondes. However, the Spondeus can hardly be reproduced in German because we always emphasize one syllable more strongly when speaking. That is why one turned to the trochee, that is, the sequence of a stressed and one unstressed Syllable, from.

In the pentameter it falls down melodically.

This example is the second line of a memory verse by Friedrich Schillerto clarify the pentameter. If we look at the stressed and unstressed syllables, it becomes apparent that a dactyl has been replaced by a trochee. Schiller quickly replaced the first verse foot. Nevertheless, the verse can be identified as a pentameter, for which the uplift rebound is also characteristic.

ImPen | tame ter | on it || fälltsieme | lodischhe | rab.
–Υ | –υ υ | - || –Υυ | –υυ | -

Note: This means that it is important not to be too quick to judge the meter of a verse. If there is a continuous dactyl in a line, even if a trochee or spondeus was entered at the beginning, the line can nevertheless turn out to be a pentameter.

Distichon: hexameter and pentameter

In the literature, the pentameter occurs almost exclusively together with the hexameter. If a pair is formed from a hexameter and a pentameter, we call this a distichon. The distich is especially typical of the epigram and the elegy.

The hexameter also consists of dactyls, whereby these can also be replaced by spondes or troches. The last dactyl is shortened by one syllable in the hexameter, i.e. two-syllable catalectic, and thus unstressed, which is known as the female cadence. However, the last foot of the foot can also be replaced by a spondeus and thus emphasized. The last syllable is therefore changeable (→ Syllaba anceps).

–Υυ | –υυ | –υυ | –υυ | –υυ | –x

This line thus clarifies the basic structure. In the previous section, a verse by Friedrich Schiller was introduced. This is the second part of a memorandum, which is the title Distich and is thus formed from a hexameter and a pentameter. Let's look at that.

In the he | xame ter | of the | spring | spring | liquid | column.
ImPen | tame ter | on it || fälltsieme | lodischhe | rab.

This work is self-explanatory: the first verse is a hexameter and the second is a pentameter. It is important here that the hexameter is also not purely dactylic, but is partly formed from troche. The first, third and fourth dactylus in the hexameter were replaced by the trochee, with the last foot of the foot being a shortened dactylus. A detailed explanation can be found in the contribution to the distich.

Effect and function of the pentameter

Basically, it is difficult to ascribe any particular effect or function to a verse. Because of course this does not always have to be consistent, but can vary greatly from poem to poem. Nevertheless, there is a very specific effect that the pentameter can have on the reader and we want to describe this.

Overview: meaning, effect and function of the pentameter
  • The ancient pentameter is a verse made up of five metra (Verse feet) consists. Often, however, the elegiac pentameters meant, which is formed from six feet of verse. Basically this is a six-lobed dactyl, with the third and sixth monosyllabic catalectic are, which is why there is a lift bounce after the third lift.
  • However, the first two dactyls can in principle be replaced by spondes or troches. As a result, it is sometimes difficult to see the pentameter immediately unless the entire corpus of the work is examined.
  • However, it often occurs together with the hexameter. This unit is called a distich. Such a pair of verses is especially typical for the elegy and the epigram, with the epigram usually consisting of a distich and the elegy from the sequence of disticha.
  • The pentameter does not have the continuous swing of the hexameter, but is kept in rhythm by being torn off twice (Catalogs) a greater movement. This manifests itself primarily in the uplift bounce, as the rhythm is interrupted and a pause occurs.
  • As a result, it is particularly suitable for expressing restlessness, violent emotional movements and excitement or even grief. Due to the strong caesura, he is often with the Antithesis or that parallelism combined, whereby he strongly emphasizes the effect of these stylistic devices.
  • Note: Sometimes a five-lever iambus is also referred to as a pentameter. This can be found in German either as an unsympathetic blank verse or as a simple rhyming verse.