For a writer of iambic pentameter, the process is fairly straightforward. One keeps in mind a simple norm, a "ground rhythm" underlying each line:
ti tum ti tum ti tum ti tum ti tum
˘´ ˘´ ˘´ ˘´ ˘´
The full embodiment of this paradigm in a line will gratify a reader's every expectation. Read these lines aloud:
But, woe is me, you are so sick of late,
So far from cheer and from your former state,
That I distrust you. Yet, though I distrust,
Discomfort you, my lord, it nothing must.
(Shakespeare, from the play within a play in Hamlet)
Yet since relentless gratification soon grows tedious, this pattern is varied by several devices.
1. Feminine endings, often lightening the mood:
At last he came; oh, who can tell the greeting (ti tum ti tum ti tum ti tum ti tum ti)
These greedy lovers had at their first meeting?
He asked, she gave, and nothing was denied.
Both to each other closely were affied.
Look how their hands, so were their hearts united,
And what he did she willingly requited.
(Marlowe, Hero and Leander)
2. Pauses within the line (like rests in music):
But all is silence; and a gush of tears (ti tum ti tum ti, tum ti tum ti tum)
Alone replies!he hath not been of those (ti tum ti tum, ti tum ti tum ti tum)
Who, feared by many, pine in secret fears (ti, tum ti tum ti, tum ti tum ti tum)
Of all . . .
(Felicia Hemans, "The Last Constantine")
Note that the rhythmical patterns thus created make a pause after syllable 1 very rare and startling, but not impossible.
3. Enjambments (the lack of pause at line-end). These produce rhythms that begin in one line and are completed in the next, whereas the normal and expected rhythm would occupy but a single line. Sometimes critics refer to a normal line as "single-molded" (or "end-stopped" if it ends with punctuation).
[Orlando finds himself at the inn and in the very bed where his beloved gave herself in love to someone else.]
Ah wretch I am (thus to him selfe he sed)
Shall I once hope to take repose and rest me
In that same house, yea ev'n in that same bed
Where my ungratefull love so lewdly drest me? [betrayed me]
Nay, let me first an hundred times be ded,
First wolves devour and vulturs shall digest me.
Straight up he starts, and on he puts his cloths,
And leaves the house, so much the bed he loaths.
(Sir John Harington's translation of Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, 1591, 23:97)
He marvels that he now would seeke her when
No hope nor cause there was, and further he
With angrie looke did bid him call to mynd
How in this point he had bene to unkynd. . . .
(Sir John Harington's translation of Ariosto's Orlando Furioso (1591), 42:32)
4. Reversing feet (inverting the stress pattern to create sudden shocks or sobs or bounces). Please note that my limited mastery of HTML does not permit the marking of unstressed syllables, so only stresses in inverted feet are marked.
Déso|late dreams pursue me out of sleep; (tum titi tum ti tum ti tum ti tum)
Wéeping | I wake;| wáking,| I weep, | I weep.| (tum titi tum | tum titi tum | ti tum)
(Edna St. Vincent Millay)
Note that the rhythmical patterns thus created make the second and especially the last foot hard to invert without awkwardness. The first foot is easiest to invert because a pause usually precedes it, separating it from the previous beat:
"Béauty is truth, truth beauty . . ."
Double inversions are rarely successful:
"How many bards gíld the lápses of time" (Keats)
"Míchell, móre then a man, ángell divine" (Harington).
5. Oddly weighting syllables (either less or more than expected):
And ín my heart there stirs a quiet pain (ti ta ti tum . . .)
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight wíth a cry (. . . ti tum ta ta ti tum)
A Roman meal,
Such as | the mis|tress óf | the world | once found |
Deli|cious, when | her pa|triots óf | high note, | (ti tum ti tum ti tum ti ta ta tum)
Perhaps | by moon|light, át | their hum|ble doors, | (ti tum ti tum ta, ta ti tum ti tum)
And un|der án | old oak's | domes|tic shade, | (ti tum ti ta ta tum ti tum ti tum)
Enjoyed|spare feast!|a ra|dish ánd | an egg. |
(William Cowper, The Task)
Like to | a step|dame, ór | a dow|ager. |
(Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream)
Exercise: The following stanza from Sir John Harington's translation of Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, published in 1591, contains a number of variations from strict regularity. Identify them.
Ye pleasant plants, greene herbs, and waters faire,
And cave with smell and gratefull shadow mixt
Where sweet Angellyca, daughter and haire [heir]
Of Galafronne, on whom in vaine were fixt
Full many hearts, with me did oft repaire
Alone and naked lay mine armes betwixt,
I, poore Medore, can yeeld but prayse and thanks
For these great pleasures found amid your banks.