Iambic pentameter. An iamb is an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one, as in the word ‘about’ or ‘relief’. Pentameter (from the Greek word for five) means having five iambs to a line.
Iambs are common in English because they follow the natural rhythm of the language, which is to alternate syllable stresses in most words. The popularity of iambic pentameter today has a lot to do with Shakespeare and his contemporaries, who settled on that line length as the ideal one with which to craft sonnets: it’s long enough to be able to carry a complete thought.
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.”
(From Sonnet 18, William Shakespeare)
I came across this when researching for my work in the ‘Traits Series’. We also found the title of our 2011 exhibition within the same research ‘Caesura’ – I will leave you, if interested, to look this one up.