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Meter in Shakespeare's Sonnets

To learn more about meter in the sonnets, visit our Guide to Shakespeare's Sonnets.

Meter Examples in Shakespeare's Sonnets:

Sonnets 21–30

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"Wishing me like to one more rich in hope, Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd..."   (Sonnets 21–30)

Although Shakespeare's sonnets are all predominantly in iambic pentameter, he frequently breaks the iambic rhythm to emphasize a particular thought or highlight a change of mood. The first words of these two lines, "Wishing" and "Featur'd,” substitute the typical iambs with trochees, metrical feet which place the stress on the first rather than the second syllable. In turn, the speaker changes the tone from one of disillusionment to one of hope and reconciliation.

"When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang..."   (Sonnets 71–80)

The three commas in this line intentionally slows down the pace of the poem and provides a sharp contrast against the rapid, staccato phrasing of the following line, "which shake against the cold.” The contrast between the two phrases heightens the rhythmic patterning of the second line, which mimics the sounds of barren trees shaking in the cold.

" 'I hate',..."   (Sonnets 141–154)

Sonnet 145 is the only one of the entire sequence not written in iambic pentameter. Instead it takes up iambic tetrameter. The shorter meter contributes to a lighter mood, with the tone shifting away from the heavier considerations of Sonnet 144 in lieu of presenting a more gentle, almost comic, interaction between lovers. The dark lady begins by saying “‘I hate,’” but upon seeing the anguish it causes for the speaker, amends her statement to “‘I hate[…] not you.’” That this resolution arrives at the end of the final couplet allows the suspense of the speaker’s distress to encompass the entire poem. The exchange ultimately comes across as playful in its treatment of the lady’s statement, conjuring associations with the feigned hatred that chaste maidens were supposed to show for their amorous suitors before ultimately giving in to their advances.

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