Dactyl (poetry)

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A dactyl (Gr. δάκτυλος dáktulos, “finger”) is an element of meter in poetry. In quantitative verse, such as Greek or Latin, a dactyl is a long syllable followed by two short syllables. (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. Also the word 'Strawberry' is, in itself, a dactyl.) In accentual verse, such as English, it is a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables.

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 / hemlocks,

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

A modern example is the Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds":

Picture your self in a boat on a river with
tangerine tree-ees and marmalade skii-ii-es.

Written in dactylic tetrameter, the song has the rhythm of a waltz. The word "skies" takes up a full three beats.

The word "poetry" is itself a dactyl, as pointed out in the New York Times Crossword Puzzle (Will Shortz, ed.) for May 31, 2006.

[edit] See also

de:Daktylus fr:Dactyle (poésie) nl:Dactylus no:Daktyl pl:Daktyl (metryka) ro:Dactil ru:Дактиль sk:Daktyl sv:Daktyl


Dactyl (poetry)

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