In English iambic pentameter, on the otherAlthough I think this is right, I find it somewhat difficult to comprehend. Mark is not without company. Most who write about versification, for some reason, make things seem too technical. Not to trumpet Timothy Steele again in this blog, but his analysis in “all the fun’s in how you say a thing” keeps it simple.
hand, the basic constraints seem to be
that both strong and weak positions in the meter
should correspond to single syllables,
and that "weak" positions in the meter should not
coincide with stress peaks (that is, syllables
that are naturally more prominent than
those around them). The "strong" positions are relatively
unconstrained. The result is verse in which
the natural rhythm of linguistic performance,
while metrically constrained, need not evoke
the regular alternation of the metrical
form very strongly.
I’ll try to be even more simple with this basic statement, which for me is the dirty secret of scansion: you cannot have three consecutive unstressed or stressed syllables in English. That’s it. One of those three syllables will be more stressed or unstressed than the others, even if ever so slightly so. It’s geographical.
Any paragraph can be scanned in loose iambic (I broke Mr. Liberman’s paragraph into lines that I would argue scan (remember elision) a very loose iambic pentameter, except the last dimeter line.) The foremost problem with pentameter is not ending a line with a word that carries your meter over a beat or two. The next issue is the amount of anapestic or trochaic substitutions you use in the lines themselves. Mr. Steele would say the fewer the better. Sometimes I agree with him. The last issue is natural rhythm and that’s just soul. Otherwise, pentameter is really a dance in the park.