A study of Metrical Writing, Part 13: Trochee Meter and the Alexandrine

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Welcome to part 13 of my study on Metrical writing. Today we will be looking at Trochee Meter, and the Alexandrine, both types of Variations that occur within Blank Verse. (@123456789 I know you had a question about this the other night, and I thought this Blog post would interest you.)

Depending on the subject of a person's writing, a writer might choose to insert portions of Trochee meter into their blank verse for the desired effect, but before one can put lines or Stanzas of Trochee mixed with Iambic Pentameter, one must first learn how to write in Trochee.

There are many fine poems that are written in pure Trochee, but none are finer than The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe. I'll be going over first Stanza of the poem so that we might better understand the ideas behind Trochee Meter (which does differ a lot from Iambic Pentameter.)

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”


Once u/pon a /midnight/ drear-y, (II)/while I/ pondered,/ weak and/ weary, (Trochee x 8)
Ov-er /man-y a/ quaint and /cur-ious /vol-ume /of for/gotten/ lore— (Trochee x 8, last foot is a tailless trochee)

While I /nod-ded,/ nearly/ nap-ping,(II)/ sud-den/ly there/ came a/ tapping, (Trochee x 8)
As of/ some one /gen-tly /rapp/ing (II), /rapp-ing /at my /chamber/ door. (Trochee x 8, last foot is a Tailless Trochee)
“’Tis some/ vis-it/or,” I /muttered,(II) /“tapping/ at my /chamb-er /door— (Trochee x 8, Last foot is a Tailless trochee.)
On-ly /this and /nothing/ more.” (Trochee x 4, last foot is a tailless Trochee.)

There are two things that the Raven illustrates in regards to how Trochee Meter works.

1. While Iambic feet lend itself to Pentameter (Hence why Iambic Pentameter is the most used Meter there is) Trochee feet lend themselves to Terameter (Hence why Trochee Terameter is the most used meter when writing in Trochee.) This is illustrated in the fact that Poe puts a Caesural pause (a punctuation mark) after the 4th foot in 90% of the lines and the last line in each Stanza is four feet.

2. The most common, if not the only substitute used in trochee meter, is the tailless Trochee. When Writing Trochee meter, you have the option, after the first line, to drop the unstressed syllable at the end of the line. This helps with both sound of the poem as well as give a poet more options in word choice. Usually, when writing Trochee, a poet aims for strict Trochee form due to the nature of the sound they are trying to create.

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Now that we have been given a brief introduction into writing Trochee meter, one must ask -and I do get asked this a lot- can one mix Iambic Pentameter and Trochee Terameter in a longer work? The answer is Yes, in fact, the most famous example (and possibly the first poet to ever do it) was done by Shakespeare in his play 'Macbeth.'

From Song of the Witches, by William Shakespeare.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Cool it with a baboon's blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.

Doub-le,/ doub-le/ toil and/ troub-le; (Trochee/Trochee/Trochee/Trochee)
Fi-re /burn and /cald-ron/ bub-ble. (Trochee/Trochee/Trochee/Trochee)*
Cool it/ with a /bab-oon's/ blood, (Trochee/Trochee/Trochee/Tailless Trochee)
Then the/ charm is/ firm and /good. (Trochee/Trochee/Trochee/Tailless Trochee)

1. Again, as we can see, Trochee meter is written in Terameter, and two of the lines have a Tailless Trochee ending.

*Some of you might notice that the word 'fire' is split into two Syllables and might be confused by this. There will be a blog post on Ambiguous Syllables, but in English, there are four consonants that -under certain phonetic conditions of a word- can be counted as its own syllable; for the word 'fire' the letter 'R' is acting as the ambiguous syllable.

As the play continues, the dialogue shifts back to Iambic. What we can learn from this is that Trochee, compared to Iambic, is indignant and vile. Hence, in an Iambic poem, vile thoughts or speech, or even actions, can be written in Trochee meter to enhance the action of the line. This is an advanced idea, and I would suggest you master writing in Iambic pentameter before adding Trochee lines to it, but this idea of mixing meters to enhance the context of a poem or story is what separates good writing from excellent writing.

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The last thing I want to touch on is the Alexandrine, Iambic Hexameter (6 feet). Some writers will insert an Alexandrine at the climax of their poem or -in plays- when something more than human is speaking (like a god.)

I wanted to give an example from Suzanne J. Doyle's 'Some girls.'

The risk is moral death each time we act,
And every act is whittled by the blade
Of history, pared down to brutal fact,
The fact: we only want what we degrade.
(Lines 1-4)

The risk/ is mor/al death /each time /we act, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
And ev/ery act /is whit/tled by/ the blade (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
Of hist/o-ry,/pared down /to brut/al fact, (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)
The fact:/ we on/ly want/ what we /de-grade. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb)

As you can see, the first four lines of the poem are Iambic pentameter, however, the last line -the climatic ending- is an Alexandrine.

Our Epic Violence in bleak bars, in bed, in art. (Line 16)

Our Ep/ic Vi/olence in/ bleak bars,/ in bed,/ in art. (Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb/Iamb.)

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In conclusion, one has the options of changing meter type and/or foot count to create poetic effects in one's writing. In skilled hands, Trochee poems, Trochee line(s) inserted into Iambic poems, and Alexandrines, are powerful tools that can enhance a person's Metrical writing.

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

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