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Trochaic Meter: Definition & Examples

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Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

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

William Shakespeare is known for using iambic pentameter in his poems, but he also used trochaic meter. Discover what trochaic meter is, along with a trochee, and how it is used in poetry through different examples. Updated: 10/21/2021

Defining Trochaic Meter

To define trochaic meter as simply as possible, it is a line of poetry composed of trochees. Like the iamb that is favored in over 75% of English poetry, the trochee is a basic metrical unit called a foot consisting of two syllables.

The trochee, though, begins with a stressed syllable, followed by an unstressed, or weak, syllable. This makes it the mirror image of the iamb, which follows the pattern weak-stressed. Think of the word 'trouble' (a trochee) as opposed to 'above' (an iamb). Say both words out loud, and you'll be able to hear which syllable is the stressed one.

Diagram of a trochaic metrical foot

So why would English (among other languages) prefer the iamb over the trochee, especially considering they are both disyllabic? We can actually begin to see the problem in the origin of the trochee's name. Derived from the Greek trokhaios ('falling, tripping'), this foot's name is representative of its falling rhythm, meaning a stressed syllable is followed by weaker ones. The iamb, on the other hand, corresponds to a rising rhythm, one that is most prevalent in English stress and speech patterns.

Speakers of English and Greek alike have found that the trochee's falling rhythm can easily become monotonous and exhausting if allowed to continue for very long. In fact, the Greeks often reserved use of the trochee for choral performances, giving us its alternative title: the choree. Although the trochee is seldom used by itself, there are some examples of purely trochaic meter and the ones below should be fairly recognizable.

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  • 0:05 Defining Trochaic Meter
  • 1:47 Examples of Trochaic Meter
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Examples of Trochaic Meter

As you look at the following examples, be aware that the trochee's stressed syllable is in all capital letters, while the weak syllables are in lowercase.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's epic poem The Song of Hiawatha is certainly unique. Written in 1855 and based on his visits with members of the Ojibwe, Black Hawk, and other Native-American tribes, this is one of the few pieces of English poetry that uses the trochee as its primary metrical foot. It is one of fewer still that contains line after line of perfect trochaic tetrameter (4 feet per line)! Let's look at a few lines.

SHOULD you ASK me, WHENCE these STORies?

WHENCE these LEgends AND traDItions,

WITH the Odors OF the FORest,

WITH the DEW and DAMP of MEAdows,

WITH the CURLing SMOKE of WIGwams,

WITH the RUSHing OF great RIVers,

WITH their FREquent REpeTItions,

AND their WILD reVERberAtions,

AS of THUNder IN the MOUNtains?

Photo of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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