Trochee

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A trochee is a metrical unit of a poetic foot in poetry which is made up of a stressed (accented) syllable followed by an unstressed (unaccented) syllable[1]. Lines of verse that are predominantly made up of trochees are referred to as trochaic. For instance, a line consisting of five sets of trochees would be considered to be in trochaic pentameter. The word trochee itself is trochaic.

One of the most famous literary works that is predominately in trochaic meter is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's The Song of Hiawatha. Another example is from a well known children's rhyme:

(/) Stressed (~) Unstressed

Eeny(/~), meeny(/~), miny(/~), moe(/)
Catch(/) a(~) tiger(/~) by(/) the(~) toe(/)[2]

Often the use of trochaic meter is an indication of a switch in tone or voice. Lines of verse that chiefly employ Iambs such as Iambic Pentameter have a sing song quality, and more closely match the natural tendencies of conversational speech. In contrast, trochees come across as more punctuated, authoritative, connotative of power, and finality.

An example of tonal change can be found in William Shakespeare's King Lear in the final stanza in which King Lear speaks before he dies.


And my poor fool is hang'd! No, no, no life!

Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
And thou no breath at all? Thou'lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never!
Pray you, undo this button: thank you, sir.
Do you see this? Look on her, look, her lips,
Look there, look there![3]

The line "Never, never, never, never, never" employs anaphora (repetition) for rhythm in combination with trochaic pentameter. This contrasts the rest of the play which is chiefly in Iambic Pentameter, and accents the finality of Lear's final words.

References

  1. "trochee, n.". OED Online. June 2011. Oxford University Press. 28 August 2011
  2. http://www.writing-world.com/poetry/meter.shtml
  3. http://shakespeare.mit.edu/lear/full.html
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