Friday, March 20, 2020


I was going to post this on The Write Way; but when I got to the composition page, I thought I might wreck something. So, it's here.

I came to the topic of trochee by way of a poem that intrigues. It appeared in a newspaper twenty years ago. Coming to it recently, I wanted to see why it worked so well. I cannot give it in full since it is not mine, but it is possible to use part of it in a study. I share what I've learned about the meter.

Trochee presents a problem, at least for me. Trochee is a meter composed of a stress, then an unstressed syllable. The name comes ultimately from the Greek word, wheel, or literally, a running foot. The meter is said to run fast because, ending with an unstressed syllable, it provides an unbroken continuity into the next line. It can run faster than iamb. Poe's The Raven runs fast:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

Trochee is a lesser used meter because it is not natural to speech. However, a line might be used to change the mood of part of the poem. When used as the principal meter, it produces a poem of hopelessness, despair, ruin. This is caused by the falling rhythm (stressed, followed by an unstressed, syllable). This can be seen in The Raven. The problem for me is the combination of speed and helplessness. When reading aloud, does one care to race to the next line of a poem whose theme is despair? It depends on the construction of the poem. Below, the first three lines probably should be read as one line. The same for the next two.

The somber nature of trochee answered an important question about the poem recently read. I didn't know it was trochee; I don't pay much attention to meter when I write poetry. The poet who began the following lines, however, did pay much attention. (I marked the first line as iambic, until it became obvious this was incorrect).

What place is this?
You'll remember Captain Jean-Luc Picard
asking dazed and confused.
And I wander this small planet Earth
as he roamed Kathaan, in a dream.

The opening lines draws our attention. They are melancholic, and maybe should be read slowly. Picard is confused, and his walk is dreamlike. The speaker, too, wanders. He does not walk briskly or run. Finally, he compares Picard's action to his own.

(I know little about Star Trek).

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