Dactyl (poetry)  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e

Wikipedia
Wiktionary
Shop


Featured:

Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Enlarge
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

A dactyl (Gr. δάκτυλος dáktulos, “finger”) is a foot in meter in poetry. In quantitative verse, such as Greek or Latin, a dactyl is a long syllable followed by two short syllables, as determined by syllable weight. In accentual verse, such as English, it is a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables—the opposite is the anapaest (two unstressed followed by a stressed syllable).

The word "poetry" is itself a dactyl, as pointed out in the New York Times Crossword Puzzle (Will Shortz, ed.) for May 31, 2006. A useful mnemonic for remembering this long-short-short pattern is to consider the relative lengths of the three bones of a human finger: beginning at the knuckle, it is one long bone followed by two shorter ones (hence the name "dactyl").

An example of dactylic meter is the first line of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem Evangeline, which is in dactylic hexameter:

This is the / forest prim- / eval. The / murmuring / pines and the / hem locks,

The first five feet of the line are dactyls; the sixth a spondee.

Stephen Fry quotes Robert Browning's The Lost Leader as an example of the use of dactylic metre to great effect, creating verse with "great rhythmic dash and drive":

Just for a handful of silver he left us
Just for a riband to stick in his coat

The first three feet in both lines are dactyls.

Another example: the opening lines of Whitman's "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" (1859), his poem about the birth of his poetic voice:

Out of the cradle, endlessly rocking [a dactyl, followed by a trochee ('cradle'); then another dactyl followed by a trochee ('rocking']
Out of the mockingbird's throat, the musical shuttle [2 dactyls, then a trochee ('throat, the'); then another dactyl, followed by a trochee]
. . .

The dactyl "out of the..." becomes a pulse that rides through the entire poem, often generating the beginning of each new line, even though the poem as a whole, as is typical for Whitman, is extremely varied and "free" in its use of metrical feet.

Dactyls are the metrical foot of Greek elegiac poetry, which followed a line of dactylic hexameter with dactylic pentameter.



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Dactyl (poetry)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools