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What Is a Trochee?
In English poetry, the definition of trochee is a type of metrical foot consisting of two syllables—the first is stressed and the second is an unstressed syllable. In Greek and Latin poetry, a trochee is a long syllable followed by a short syllable. The pattern reads as DUH-duh, as in “LAD-der.” A line of poetry with this type of foot has a trochaic meter. The term “trochee” is from the French trochée and from the Greek phrase trokhaios pous, which means “running foot.”
5 Types of Meter in Poetry
In English verse, the most common types of metrical feet are two syllables and three syllables long. They’re characterized by their particular combination of stressed syllables and unstressed syllables. They include:
- Trochee: A trochaic line is pronounced DUH-duh, as in “HIGH-way.”The first syllable is stressed and the second is unstressed. Poems with type of foot are written in trochaic meter.
- Iamb: An iambic line is pronounced duh-DUH, as in “in-DEED.” The first syllable is unstressed and the second is stressed. Poems with this type of foot have iambic meters.
- Spondee: A spondaic line is pronounced DUH-DUH, as in “RAIN-STORM.” A line of poetry with this type of foot has a spondaic meter.
- Dactyl: A dactylic line is pronounced DUH-duh-duh, as in “CER-tain-ly.” A line of poetry with this type of foot has a dactylic meter.
- Anapest: An anapestic line is pronounced duh-duh-DUH, as in “contra-DICT.” A line of poetry with this type of foot has an anapestic meter. Anapestic poetry typically divides its stressed syllables across multiple words.
6 Types of Trochaic Meter
The meter of a trochaic line of verse is determined by how many feet the line has. For example:
- Trochaic monometer: one trochee
- Trochaic dimeter: two trochees
- Trochaic trimeter: three trochees
- Trochaic tetrameter: four trochees
- Trochaic pentameter: five trochees
- Trochaic hexameter: six trochees
3 Reasons to Use Trochaic Meter in Poetry
Trochees are less common than other types of metrical feet in poetry, but they have a unique sound and purpose when they are featured in poems. Trochees can be used to great effect for the following reasons:
- Trochaic lines flow easily from one to the next. Trochaic meter ends on an unstressed syllable. Without the hard stop at the end of a line that a stressed syllable creates, a trochaic line flows fluidly into the subsequent line.
- Trochees introduce an unnatural sound to a poem. Trochee is one of the lesser-used meters in poetry because it is less-natural sounding than iambic meters. Poets sometimes reserve the use of a trochaic line to disrupt the rhythm of a poem and emphasize a point.
- Trochees can create a tone of despair. A trochaic meter’s falling rhythm creates a more somber tone and is often used in moments of hopelessness. William Shakespeare switches from iambic pentameter to trochaic pentameter in the final line of this passage from King Lear as Lear mourns the death of his daughter:
And my poor fool is hang'd! No, no, no life!
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
and thou no breath at all? Thou'lt come no more,
never, never, never, never, never!
2 Examples of Trochees in Poetry
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Here are two poems that are written in trochaic meter:
1. In William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, most of the play is in blank verse—a poetic form without a rhyme scheme that follows a strict meter, which is most often iambic pentameter. The iamb’s stress pattern is opposite that of the trochee, and Shakespeare uses it extensively throughout the play. When he introduces the three witches who predict MacBeth’s future, though, he switches the rhythm to the more unnatural sounding trochaic pattern:
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
These lines are written in trochaic tetrameter—four trochees per line—and they give the witches’ speech a haunting quality.
2. Edgar Allan Poe uses trochaic meter in his 1845 poem “The Raven.” Notice how he excludes the final unstressed syllable from the end of the second, fourth, fifth, and sixth lines. This type of line—one that drops the final syllable—is called a catalectic line. Each catalectic line in this poem creates an incomplete trochaic foot, ending on a stressed syllable, which is easier to rhyme.
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!
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