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Pentameter ( Greek  πεντάμετρος pentámetros from πέντε pénte "five" and μέτρον métron "measure": "with five measures", as an adjective to Greek  στίχος stichos "verse" to think) is a dactylic dactylic measure of six in the ancient quantitating metric . The name “pentameter” is literally misleading. The pentameter appears almost exclusively as the second verse of the elegiac distich , the first verse of which is a hexameter .

The ancient languages ​​that used the pentameter, Greek and Latin, have different properties than the German language; therefore the structure of the pentameter in German differs in some points from the structure of the ancient model.

In other modern languages, "pentameter" generally refers to the five-key , which is actually incorrect in the case of the iambic five-key , since the iambic metron consists of two feet of verse, so an iambic pentameter would be ten feet.

Antique pentameter

In the ancient pentameter, the third and sixth dactyls are each monosyllabic catalectic , that is, they consist of only a single long syllable without subsequent short syllables. By a prescribed diheresis after the third dactyl, the verse is rhythmically divided into two parallel, tripod half-verses ( kola ). The first and second dactyls can also be replaced by a spondeus (two longa , --— ). In metric notation :

- ◡◡ ˌ— ◡◡ ˌ— ‖ —◡◡ˌ — ◡◡ˌ

An example from Martial's epigrams (1.57):

Nec volo quod cruciat, nec volo quod satiat.
I neither like what torments, nor what satiates.

The counting of the pentameter as a "five-footed" verse may have arisen in antiquity because the verse was interpreted as two "half hexameters" (hemiepes) and the two catalectic feet were added together as "half" feet, or by incorrect measurement , in which, disregarding the diheresis, the two successive lengths were combined as a spondeus and the following syllables were interpreted as two anapastes (two short syllables followed by a long one).

German pentameter


In the accentuating metric of German, the classical meter is reproduced by a corresponding sequence of upward and downward movements, although the first two dactyls are not replaced by spondes that are difficult to accentuate, but rather trochaes (a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed, -◡ ) be used:

—◡ (◡) ˌ — ◡ (◡) ˌ— ‖ —◡◡ˌ — ◡◡ˌ—

An example from Friedrich Hölderlin's Der Wanderer :

The falcon looks around high in the clear air.

—◡ˌ — ◡◡ˌ— ‖ —◡◡ˌ — ◡◡ˌ—

However, if it makes sense (for example in the case of verses by poets who expressly try to recreate the ancient verse), bipedal feet are understood and identified by many metrics as Spondeus. From August von Platens Umiltà in Piosta :

Was just a craftsman but the adornment of art.

a) —◡◡ˌ — ◡ˌ— ‖ —◡◡ˌ — ◡◡ˌ—
b) —◡◡ˌ —— ˌ— ‖ —◡◡ˌ — ◡◡ˌ—

Here "Handwerks-" is a two-syllable foot, which is represented as a trochaeus (a), but, due to the severity of the syllable "-werks-", can also be understood as a spondeus (b).

Different in Platen's Greeks and Pietists :

But it became a craft, chattering mob, in you.

—◡◡ˌ —— ˌ— ‖ —◡◡ˌ — ◡◡ˌ—

Here "handicraft" together with the "ward" occupying the uplift in front of it forms a looped spondeus at a point on the pentameter, immediately in front of the diheresis, which is very sensitive. Therefore, the designation as Spondeus makes sense so that the will of the author to reproduce an ancient Spondeus here as effectively as possible is understandable and can be implemented in the best possible way by the reader in the (loud or internal) lecture.

Occasionally, in German poetry, a verse foot of the second half of the verse is realized as a two-syllable foot, which, however, contradicts the function of the pentameter and therefore only occurs in a few authors. An early example from Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock's The Future Beloved (1747):

If half of my heart pleases you in a song!

—◡ˌ — ◡◡ˌ— ‖ —◡ˌ — ◡◡ˌ—

Beginning of verse

In the German pentameter, as in the German hexameter, the accentuation opening the verse is often not occupied with a syllable requiring stress, but with a syllable that merely enables stress. This weakens the verse and was recognized early on as a verse quality to be observed.

The ghost of the law stands on the throne of kings.

On November 29, 1795, on the occasion of an exchange about his elegy The Walk to Wilhelm von Humboldt , Friedrich Schiller wrote about the first, two-syllable foot of this pentameter, "Des Ge", that "a rigorist would hardly forgive him."

First half of the verse

In the first half of the verse of the pentameter, the first two, three-syllable verse feet (dactyls) can be exchanged for two-syllable verse feet (trochaes or, more rarely, spondes). With the same second half of the verse, there are four different pentameters: first foot three-syllable, second foot three-syllable ( 33 ), first foot two-syllable, second foot three-syllable ( 23 ), first foot three-syllable, second foot two-syllable ( 32 ), first foot two-syllable , second foot two-syllable ( 22 ). The four pentameters appear in this order in Johann Wolfgang Goethe's The New Pausias and his Flower Girl in Distiches 33–36:

And the raw Timanth took hold of me, and said: The bumblebees are
researching the glorious chalice, sweet secrets?
And you turned away and wanted to flee;
Baskets and flowers fell down in front of the clumsy man.
and you called him commandingly: Let the girl! The bouquets,
like the girl herself, are for the finer sense.
But he held you fixed only; the laugher grinned,
And your dress was torn from the top of your neck.

However, these pentameter forms do not appear with the same frequency over large numbers of distiches. The following were counted for Goethe's Elegies: 23 55.2%, 33 36.1%, 32 6.2%, 22 2.5%. The corresponding values ​​for Schiller: 23 48.4%, 33 42.0%, 32 9.6%, 22 0.0%. On the basis of such numbers, one can draw conclusions about the general structure of the pentameter, such as that the second foot of the verse is three syllable in the overwhelming number of verses; on the other hand, the personal understanding of verse of the individual poet becomes visible, such as in Schiller's complete renunciation of form 22 .


The incision in the middle of the pentameter often coincides with a sentence, which means: meaning incision; Examples are the two pentameters of Platens shown under "Meter". However, the sentence can also pull over the verse without its own incision; Examples are the pentameters of Hölderlin and Klopstock shown under "Meter". As a third possibility, verse and meaning sections can be realized in the immediate vicinity, i.e. shifted by one or two syllables against each other. An example from Hugo von Hofmannsthal's insight :

I kept silent for ever | quietly: because I know enough.

Here the hyphen (|) occurs one syllable earlier than the hyphen identified by the colon. In such cases, it is advisable to also make the verse cut audible by hesitating or withdrawing slightly in the lecture.

The sentence cut can also be before the verse cut. An example from Muse and poet of Eduard Mörike :

Sleep! Just dream! Still | I call down for your help.

Here the clause comes first, one syllable before the clause (|).

It is also possible to cut a sentence in front of the diheresis, combined with a second cut in the sentence behind it. The verse is then divided into three parts, and if the two clauses each have a distance of two syllables from the diheresis, a word footer, which is rare in German, becomes audible, the antispast . An example from Prognostikon by Gustav Schwab :

Falling with shame, a mockery | Enemies, and friends a horror.

The two cuts in sentences are marked by commas, the antispast builds up around the cut in verse (|), "a mockery of enemies", ◡ —— ◡.

In most cases there is also a word in the pentameter on the elevation before the diheresis which closes the first half-verse; only rarely does a word go beyond this limit. An example can be found in An Agnes Countess zu Stolberg by Johann Heinrich Voss :

Breath test, under the reed sparrow bright singing;

Here the diheresis lies between "pipe" and "-sper-". In such cases, the syllable that occupies the accentuation immediately after the diheresis ("-sper-") is often followed by two very volatile syllables ("-lin-", "-ges"), which gives the preceding accentuation syllable additional emphasis and enables it to assert itself against the syllable on the accentuation before the diheresis ("pipe-"). In this way an ionic word base is often formed , here "Rohrsperlinges", ——◡◡. In such cases, too, the lecture should make the diheresis audible in some way.

The hyphen before the diheresis is usually occupied with a very strong syllable, so that it can assert itself against the immediately following hyphen after the diheresis and is not "pressed". If there is a weaker syllable, the contextual context often helps. A Distichon of Goethe, from the four seasons :

The field and the forest and the rock and the gardens have always been to me
only one space and you make them, beloved, a place.

Here the reference to the content justifies emphasizing the actually weaker "you" on the emphasis before the diheresis so strongly that it can stand against the following "do".

Second half of the verse

In the second half of the pentameter, the fourth and fifth foot of the verse are always dactyls; this is the point at which the basic dactylic rhythm of the pentameter and of the entire distich is most clearly expressed. Therefore, in general, only very "clean" dactyls are used here, i.e. those whose accentuation is occupied by a strong syllable and whose lowering syllables have as little weight as possible, which means: do not carry any secondary stress.

Tone, shape, and a touch of the no longer sayable haunted
creatively, and already alone, through the wasteful time.

In this distichon by Josef Weinheber (from Für Richard Strauss ) the lowering of the fifth pentameter foot is therefore remarkably heavily occupied; "-rich" has a secondary emphasis.


The last syllable of the pentameter, which can be long or short in ancient verse, is always stressed in German verse and almost always has a strong syllable. If, as an exception (usually in the closest possible imitation of the ancient model), there is a weak syllable, the pentameter also closes a meaning segment. The last verse of August Wilhelm Schlegel's Die Elegie provides an example :

loving mind, gentle master.

The closure is usually made up of one or two syllable words. Polysyllabic words have a big impact, but are difficult to realize at this point; Examples with a strong final syllable can be found in Schlegel's Rome , such as:

Their bewitching shine is inherent in the nature of the basilisk.

Enjambement is common in longer texts made up of distiches, but less common in epigrams because of the shortness of the texts; the sentence flows from the hexameter to the pentameter as well as from the pentameter to the hexameter of the next distichon. In German texts, however, a new idea almost always begins with the hexameter, almost never with the pentameter.


The effect of the pentameter, which occurs exclusively in the elegiac distichon in German, can only be understood in relation to its partner, the hexameter, and the entire structure of the distichon. Due to the freely movable caesura and the possibility of changing between dactylus, trochaeus and spondeus in five of the six feet, the movement in the hexameter opening the distich can unfold freely, giving the impression of a calm, broad outflow; the pentameter begins through its solid incision in the middle, where the movement stops briefly, and the exclusively dactylic second half of the verse brings this diversity back to rest, whereby the entire pair of verses ends emphatically and gives an impression of great unity.

Rudolf von Gottschall expresses this connection as succinctly as possible: "The hexameter is centrifugal , the pentameter centripetal ."

Emanuel Geibel's distiches from the beach of the sea contain some epigrams which either directly contain the distich or can be related to the distich and the different nature of his verses. An example:

Whether the wave stretches like a mirror, whether it foams up frantically,
the stars wander along their designated path.

Non-distichic pentameters

Like the ancient pentameter, the German pentameter is used almost exclusively in connection with the hexameter in the elegiac distich; Wilhelm Langewiesche , however, thinks it is possible "sometimes to create at least small poems of suitable material from pentameters alone, which can then be rhymed with advantage", and gives some of his own verses as an example:

Now that I have matured into a man, I sigh: "Oh, I would still be young!"
Oh, and the wheels of time roll with the fastest possible swing.

Johann Heinrich Friedrich Meineke considers the connection of the pentameter with verses other than the hexameter to be possible and gives as an example, among other things, a separate example strophe consisting of three phalacic verses and a closing pentameter:

Friend, do not wander to the grave of
the one loved in life. A thousand
tears of yours do not wake him back into your
arms: do not cast the spirit back into the mold.

Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock used the pentameter twice as the first verse of a four-line odenstrophe, in Sie and The Apparitions . The first verse of you :

Joy, who are you like? In vain I strive to choose, you are
equal to everything that is more beautiful
, everything that
rises high , everything that touches the heart.

These and other, comparable attempts have remained unsuccessful. The use of the pentameter by Rainer Maria Rilke in the Duineser Elegien and the Sonnets to Orpheus is of greater importance . In most of the elegies Rilke changes the verses of the distich, hexameter and pentameter, in the most varied of ways, but real hexa- and pentameters can also be found. An example is given in the sixth elegy, V15, V16:

Heroes, perhaps, and
those who were overdetermined at an early age, whose veins in the gardening death bend their veins differently.

The first verse is a catalectical dactylic five-meter (which, if added at the beginning with a footer, would result in an impeccable hexameter), the second verse an unobjectionable pentameter; all in all, the distich form is still recognizable as a template.

In the sonnets to Orpheus, in the tenth sonnet of the second part, all even-numbered verses of the quartets are (rhymed) pentameters:

Everything it has acquired threatens the machine as long as
it dares to be in the spirit instead of in obeying.
So that the splendid hand no longer shines
with more beautiful hesitation , it cuts the stone more rigidly for the resolute construction.

Nowhere is she left behind so that we can escape her once
and she belongs to herself, oiling her in a quiet factory.
It is life - it thinks it can do it best,
which orders and creates and destroys with the same resolve.

V2, V4, V6, V8 are pentameters built according to the rule; V1 and V7 are dactylic five-pointers that can be understood as shortened hexameters, V3 a pentameter extended by an unstressed syllable. V5 can also be read in this way (emphasis on "-rück" and "dass"); but reading as a hexameter is also possible (lifting to "-rück" and "we"). Here, too, the basic structure of the distich can still be felt.


Friedrich August Gotthold described basic properties of the pentameter such as its derivation from the hexameter, its dependence on the hexameter and its two-part structure in an epigram consisting of two distiches:

Always walk alone! The hexameter once cried plaintively;
The echo resounded: Always walking alone!
And instructed by the nymph, he created himself the companion,
twice speaking the word: Always walk alone.


  • Jakob Minor: Neuhochdeutsche Metrik, Trübner, Strasbourg 1902, pp. 311–319.
  • Otto Knörrich: Lexicon of lyrical forms (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 479). 2nd, revised edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-520-47902-8 , pp. 166f.
  • Günther Schweikle, Dieter Burdorf (Hrsg.): Metzler Lexicon Literature. Terms and definitions. Metzler, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 978-3-476-01612-6 , p. 576.

Individual evidence

  1. Jakob Minor: Neuhochdeutsche Metrik, Trübner, Strassburg 1902, p. 320.
  2. Rudolf von Gottschall: Poetics. Poetry and its technique. From the standpoint of modern times, first volume, fifth edition, Trewendt, Breslau 1892, p. 247.
  3. ^ Wilhelm Langewiesche, Ernst Kleinpaul: Poetics. The doctrine of German poetry, ninth edition, Heinsius, Bremen 1892, p. 280.
  4. ^ Johann Heinrich Friedrich Meineke: The verse art of the Germans developed from the nature of rhythm, second part, Basse, Quedlinburg and Leipzig 1817, p. 58.