A study of Metrical Writing, Part 12: Trochees

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Welcome to part 12 of my study on Metrical writing. Today we will be looking at the Trochee. The Trochee, along with the Feminine ending, is the most important substitute in writing blank verse.

So what is a Trochee? A Trochee is an inverted foot a Stressed-unstressed pattern. Here is an example: From Jay Macpherson's 'The Third Eye'

Fading /so fast! Ah love, /its light /is done. (Trochee/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

As we can see, the first foot is Trochee and the rest of them are Iambs. Now, what I want to do with today's blog is to explain WHEN to use a the Trochee substitute. People starting off might just throw a Trochee into a line at any time with no thought to it, but this would be a sign of a beginner's work. Let us now explore when and why a Trochee is used.

The most common type of trochee is use is a trochee opening. 10% of all Iambic lines open with a Trochee, but some forethought must be put into the reason why.

First, like the above example, Trochee openings are often used with Verbals. Now think about what the line is 'saying.' Love fades away -just like how the beat fades away due to the trochee opening, yet even without this effect, Trochee's give a writer Grammatic Freedom in their lines.

Second, let's Say you open with a Verb/Trochee like the following example.

Kill the /gray dog! A trochee opening often as a violent sound, just like how the verb in this opening is violent. Trochee + Verb openings are a great way to show violent opening.

Third, A noun. I wouldn't use any old noun but a proper noun with a trochee opening. Example:

Danny, /the boy/ from school... (Trochee/Iamb/Iamb)

As we can see, using a trochee for a proper noun works very well.

Last, an Adjective. If you are speaking about an important Feature, having an Adjective in a Trochee opening would be another important idea.

Blue was /the col/or of/ her eyes, (Trochee/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

So in Essence, when using a Trochee opening try to use: A verbal, Verb, proper noun, or an important Adjective.

What type of trochee would you not use?

On a /dark day, (Trochee/Iamb)

I am not saying the above is 'wrong.' But notice how On is not a very important word. It just doesn't have the power of a noun, verb, verbal, or adjective. I feel that the above would work better with a mid-line Trochee, not an opening Trochee.

Which brings me to my next point; when to use a mid-line Trochee? This one is easy; you may use a mid-line Trochee AFTER a Caesural pause. What is A Caesural pause? It is a pause that occurs between clauses and phrases and is often -though not always- marked with a punctuation mark.

Here is one from May Sarton's 'The Tortured.'

Cried In/no-cence/, (II)'Mother,/ my thumbs, /my thumbs! (Iamb/Iamb/Trochee/Iamb/Iamb.)

The pause (marked with II) occurs before the dialogue. We can see, because of the pause, the writer chose to insert a Trochee.

Midline Trochees my appear in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th foot of Iambic Pentameter.

What about the final foot? Many Metrical writers believe that 5th-foot Trochees don't exist. They certainly don't exist in Ryhmn poetry as even in the Raven (A trochee poem) Poe ends alot of lines in a Tailless Trochee to avoid the problem of a finding a unstressed/Stressed/unstressed word for every line. But what about Blank Verse? They do occur in Blank Verse, however, Trochee endings create an unpleasant Rhythm and have the ability -if used poorly- to butcher the line. Instead, I will offer up two ideas where one could justify the use of Trochee endings.

1. Creating a point of Irony.
2. Comicverse.

In most series poems, people avoid Trochee endings like the plague (so much that I am unable to find a contemporary example of them.) and I would not suggest beginning writers to try their hand at them.


This concludes my look at the Trochee Substitute. Next post, we will be looking at inserting whole lines of Trochee into an Iambic poem, and the Alexandrine.

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

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