What Does The Poetic Device “Iamb” Mean?

One of the prominent literary devices used by poets and writers comes in the form of an “iamb.” This phrase is usually used when describing the rhythm of a poem.

The actual definition states that a poetic iamb is a literary device used as a foot with a combination of unstressed/stressed syllables. It’s all about variation, so a single line in a poem would include both unaccented (short) syllables followed by accented (long) syllables.

Types of Iambs

It’s important to note poetic works don’t have one type of iamb in them. Instead, several different types are used based on what the writer is going for in their work. These types are divided based on how many iambs there are per line.

1) Iambic Dimeter (two stressed syllables per line)
2) Iambic Trimester (three stressed syllables per line)
3) Iambic tetrameter (four stressed syllables per line)
4) Iambic Pentameter (five stressed syllables per line)
5) Iambic Hexameter (six stressed syllables per line)

One way to look at iambs per line is to think of a heartbeat. The emphasis is placed on the first syllable and the second syllable is less emphasized.


What is the reason for these being used in poems and other literary works?

The primary benefit involves readability. With the inclusion of these iambs, they rhythm of the poem begins to take shape, guiding the reader on what syllables to put the emphasis on. It’s up to the author of the poem to decide how many iambs to be included per line, where to put the line breaks, etc. Using the iambs as a guide, new meanings to words can emerge.

Famous Use of Iambs 

Shakespeare is a renowned poet known for his use of iambic pentameter (5 heart beats per line). For example, Romeo’s famous monologue in Romeo & Juliet:

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?

It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.

Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,

Who is already sick and pale with grief