Dimeter: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 On Their Own Two Feet:…
  • 1:20 When to Use Dimeters
  • 2:29 Iambic Dimeters
  • 3:03 Dactylic Dimeter
  • 3:50 Limerick: Anapestic Dimeter
  • 4:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

It probably sounds like something you'd use to turn down the lights, but dimeter is certainly not a household gadget. Come learn more about this poetic meter in this lesson, where you'll see the term defined and some examples of the meter in use.

On Their Own Two Feet: Dimeter Defined

Have you ever had to deal with meter while reading one of Shakespeare's plays? If so, then you might remember that meter is a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in poetry or verse. For instance, the word 'mountain' is a word that uses one stressed and one unstressed syllable. Try saying the word out loud, and you'll hear how the first syllable is stronger and more dominant than the second. 'Mount' in 'mountain' is the stressed syllable.

In his works, Shakespeare used non-rhyming lines of iambic pentameter, which consist of five (penta-) metrical feet per line (iambs in this case). Whereas the term pentameter refers to the number five, dimeter refers to any line of poetry consisting of two metrical feet because di means two.

Let's take a quick look at this model to get a better idea of what dimeters look like:

Up the | mountain,
Down the | valley,
Steadi | ly the
Train chugs | onward

Were this an actual poem, we would say it's an example of trochaic dimeter. That's because each line contains two trochaic feet, or trochees. Each trochee has two syllables - the first stressed, the second unstressed (i.e., mountain) - so as a result we can see that each line above holds four syllables.

When to Use Dimeters

As with pentameters, hexameters, or any other numerical poetic distinctions, any type of metrical foot (i.e., trochee, iamb, dactyl, etc.) can appear in dimeters. Despite this flexibility, though, dimeter lines are seldom used in English poetry, especially by themselves. If you couldn't tell from the model we just used, dimeters are extremely short lines, so they can make it difficult for poets to express a flowing continuous thought. Also, from the reader's perspective, these lines can be distracting and difficult to follow. Nevertheless, poets may elect to use dimeters to lend their work a sense of swiftness or urgency.

When combined with longer verse lines, dimeters can be used to stress a particular point or to provide a quick transition. The latter usage makes them particularly useful in limericks, or short rhyming poems usually featuring rude humor. The premise of a limerick's joke is typically established in the first two lines, while the third and fourth lines are generally anapestic dimeters that quickly lead to the final punch line.

There may not be too many instances of dimeter in English poetry; however, let's go through a few good examples of this brief meter.

Iambic Dimeter

Like trochees, iambs are metrical feet containing two syllables, only the stress pattern is reversed. Rather than the stressed syllable followed by a non-streessed syllable like in 'mountain,' we have a non-stressed followed by a stressed syllable, like in 'about.' Thomas Hardy chose iambic dimeter for his poem 'The Robin', and you can see from the excerpt below that the effect of the four-syllable lines captures the bird's twitchy, flittering movement.

When I descend
Toward the brink
I stand and look
And stop and drink
And bathe my wings,
And chink, and prink.

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