Mammoth Memory

Iambic trimeter

An iambic foot (iamb) has a short syllable followed by a long syllable (SL or U/).

Trimeter is three feet per line.



Again in this example, there’s some deviation from the iambic rhythm – for instance, in the second verse, “Slid from the kitchen shelf” starts with a trochee (LS, or /U). This change is quite possibly deliberate, to emphasise the noise of the pans hitting the kitchen floor.

There’s also an extra short syllable at the end of some lines.

However, this poem is mostly perfect iambic trimeter:

trimeter has 3 feet per line


The whiskey on your breath   

Could make a small boy dizzy;   

But I hung on like death:   

Such waltzing was not easy. 


We romped until the pans   

Slid from the kitchen shelf;   

My mother’s countenance   

Could not unfrown itself


The hand that held my wrist   

Was battered on one knuckle;   

At every step you missed 

My right ear scraped a buckle. 


You beat time on my head   

With a palm caked hard by dirt,   

Then waltzed me off to bed   

Still clinging to your shirt.

Theodore Roethke – My Papa’s Waltz


A closer look at the feet in this poem


U = short syllable; / = long syllable; | = division between feet

trimeter example


More Info