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Iambic Pentameter - Sample

Hugh Cook notes: the exercise in iambic pentameter below dates from 1995, at which time I was at the University of Auckland studying a course in "Shakespeare on Screen".

The exercise was to put a passage from John Lyly's play Gallathea into blank verse.

Blank verse is poetry which satisfies BOTH of the following conditions:-

(i) It does not rhyme.

(ii) All the lines have the same number of feet.


Blank verse may be in the form of iambic pentameter, and usually is. The sample of verse below is in iambic pentameter.

The material below falls into two parts. The first part is the quote from Gallathea and the second part is my rendition of this material in blank verse.

Note: there is one deliberate flaw in the blank verse. (Finding it, if you are so inclined, is your problem.)

Sample from John Lyly's play Gallathea

John Lyly was born 1554 and died in 1606. His play was first published in 1592, but was first performed a few years before that date. (One source indicates that the first performance may have been between 1583 and 1585.)

In times past, where thou seest a heap of small pebble, stood a stately temple of white marble, which was dedicated to the god of the sea (and in right, being so near the sea). Hither came all such as either ventured by long travel to see countries, or by great traffic to use merchandise, offering sacrifice by fire to get safety by water, yielding thanks for perils past, and making prayers for good success to come. But fortune, constant in nothing but inconstancy, did change her copy, as the people their custom. For the land, being oppressed by the Danes who instead of sacrifice committed sacrilege, instead of religion rebellion, and made a prey of that in which they should have made their prayers, tearing down the temple even with the earth, being almost equal with the skies, enraged so the god who binds the winds in the hollows of the earth, that he caused the seas to break their bounds, sith men had broke their vows, and to swell as far above their reach as men had swerved beyond their reason. Then might you see ships sail where sheep fed, anchors cast where ploughs go, fishermen throw their nets where husbandmen sow their corn, and fishes throw their scales where fowls do breed their quills. Then might you gather froth where now is dew, rotten weeds for sweet roses, and take view of monstrous mermaids instead of passing fair maids.

John Lyly's prose
converted to iambic pentameter
by Hugh Cook:-

These knucklebones of lime you see, they once
Comprised a stately temple by the sea -
A body raised within the sea-god's claim
And thus kept maiden-pure to honour him.
As white as Greek acropolis she stood,
A fair forever wrought in marble stone,
Her virtues drawing pilgrims by the score,
Those bent to see the sights of foreign lands
Or wont by trade to chance their gold by sea.
Such men would here make sacrifice by fire,
By alchemy of shifting flame would seek
To make the future marble and to still
The deliquescent shifts of chance and change,
The veering moods of mutability.
But fortune has the nature of the tides
And ever shifts, and nowhere stable stands,
And when the Danes by force of brutal rape
Despoiled the skyward pillars to the earth,
And sacred form delivered to the worm,
Then rage beset the god who binds the winds,
And chafing sea, and flood, and muddy broil
He loosed, and caused the waves to rouse and swell -
And free from all restraint the swamping sea
Made dice of all, a gamble all did lose.
Then might you see the sail-bearing hulls,
Oblivious of memory of sheep,
Make passage where the farmers once grew corn,
And fishers net the waters of the moon,
And anchor plumb the history of the plough,
And plummet measure fathoms to the dead.
Then might you see the consequence of shame,
The chaste decorum of the holy days
By breach of rite laid open to the worst,
The rose succumbing to the rotten weed,
And fish untrammelled swelling to the shape
Of mermaids monstrous, bold, and foul to view.


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