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A study of Metrical Writing, Part 14: The Headless Iamb

Published by OJB in the blog OJB's blog. Views: 191

Following our discussion of Trochee Meter, I'd like to look at this Bad Boy, The Headless Iamb. The Headless Iamb is where you drop the opening unstressed syllable. Here is an example from 'Legacies' by Emily Grosholz.

^ Old/ e-nough/ to take/ the train /alone (Headless Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb).

A few guidelines using this substitution.

1. Don't use it in the opening line. Why? Tell me, what is wrong with the following scan?

Old e/nough to/ take the/ train a/lone (Trochee/Trochee/Trochee/Trochee/Tailless Trochee.)

Nothing. The above Illustrates that by using a Headless Iamb in the opening line, you run the possibility of having someone reading your poem in the wrong meter. (By the way, This is why you don't tailless Trochee in the opening line of a Trochee poem either.) The first line of a poem should establish the meter of the poem.

Note: I'd like to note that if you were trying to create some ambiguity with the meter to match the context of the poem, it could argue that a headless Iamb opening line would be justified.

2. While some poets do this, you should not use a Hypermetrical ending with a Headless Iamb either. From the same poem.

Renters, mice, and brave nocturnal children

^ Rent/ers, mice,/ and brave/ nocturn/al child(ren) (Headless Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb (Hpyer))


Renters,/ mice, and/ brave noct/urn-al /children (Trochee/Trochee/Trochee/Trochee/Trochee)

Do we see the problem? But what saves this line that makes it Iamb 100%? It is the Caesural pause after the word mice.

(II) and brave /nocturn/al child(ren)

If we look at this phrase by itself it is Iamb. We've not gotten to Rhetorical phrasing with Meter (that will be last few blog post in this series) but phrasing is essential in writing meter.

What about using a headless Iamb somewhere in the middle of the line? Yuck! Rhythmically it would be displeasing, but I can't say that poets haven't done it; I just wouldn't do it.

One last note, when using the Headless Iamb, Make sure the opening Syllable is STRONG and the closing Syllable is equally strong, Nouns, Verbals, Verbs, Adjectives, etc. Not prepositions, articles, or conjunctions


If you have any questions or thoughts, please leave a comment or a like!

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