|˘ ˘||pyrrhus, dibrach|
|¯ ˘||trochee, choree|
|˘ ˘ ˘||tribrach|
|¯ ˘ ˘||dactyl|
|˘ ¯ ˘||amphibrach|
|˘ ˘ ¯||anapaest, antidactylus|
|˘ ¯ ¯||bacchius|
|¯ ¯ ˘||antibacchius|
|¯ ˘ ¯||cretic, amphimacer|
|¯ ¯ ¯||molossus|
|See main article for tetrasyllables.|
In poetic meter, a trochee // or choree, choreus, is a metrical foot consisting of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one in English, or a heavy syllable followed by a light one in Latin or Greek. In this respect, a trochee is the reverse of an iamb.
The adjective form is "trochaic".
Trochee comes from French trochée, adapted from Latin trochaeus, originally from the Greek τροχός (trokhós), "wheel," from the phrase trokhaios pous, literally "running foot"; along with choree from χορός, khorós, "dance"; both convey the "rolling" rhythm of this metrical foot. The phrase was adapted into English in the late 16th century.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's The Song of Hiawatha, whose meter was taken from Elias Lönnrot's Kalevala, is written almost entirely in trochees, barring the occasional substitution (iamb, spondee, pyrrhic, etc.).
- Should you ask me, whence these stories?
- Whence these legends and traditions,
- With the odours of the forest,
- With the dew and damp of meadows,
In the second line, "and tra-" is a Pyrrhic substitution, as are "With the" in the third and fourth lines and "of the" in the third. Even so, the dominant foot throughout the poem is the trochee.
- Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
- And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Trochaic meter is also seen among the works of William Shakespeare:
- Double, double, toil and trouble;
- Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Perhaps owing to its simplicity, though, trochaic meter is fairly common in children's rhymes:
- Peter, Peter pumpkin-eater
- Had a wife and couldn't keep her.
Often a few trochees will be interspersed among iambs in the same lines to develop a more complex or syncopated rhythm. Compare (William Blake):
- Tyger, Tyger, burning bright
- In the forests of the night
These lines are primarily trochaic, with the last syllable dropped so that the line ends with a stressed syllable to give a strong rhyme or masculine rhyme. By contrast, the intuitive way that the mind groups the syllables in later lines in the same poem makes them feel more like iambic lines with the first syllable dropped:
- Did he smile his work to see?
In fact the surrounding lines by this point have become entirely iambic:
- When the stars threw down their spears
- And watered Heaven with their tears
- . . .
- Did he who made the lamb make thee?
Trochaic verse is also well known in Latin poetry, especially of the medieval period. Since the stress never falls on the final syllable in Medieval Latin, the language is ideal for trochaic verse. The dies irae of the Requiem mass is a perfect example:
- Dies irae, dies illa
- Solvet saeclum in favilla
- Teste David cum Sibylla.
The song Blank Space is in trochaic metre, which is responsible for many listeners mishearing part of the lyric as the line 'Got a long list of ex-lovers' is forced into an unnatural shape to fit the stress pattern:
- Got a long list of ex-lovers
Where the stress would naturally fall on the 'ex' of 'ex-lovers', it instead falls on 'of' and the first syllable of 'lovers', which can confuse on first hearing and cause the mind to try to fit an alternative two-syllable word into the 'of ex-' foot.
In Greek and Latin, the syllabic structure deals with long and short syllables, rather than accented and unaccented. Trochaic meter was rarely used by the Latin poets, except in certain passages of the tragics and the comics.
- Etymology of the Latin word trochee', MyEtymology (retrieved 23 July 2015)
- Trochee, Etymology Online (retrieved 23 July 2015)
- Christoph Irmscher (2006), Longfellow Redux, Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, p. 108.
- The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. London: Abbey Library/Cresta House, 1977.
- Gustavus Fischer, "Prosody", Etymology and an introduction to syntax (Latin Grammar, Volume 1), J. W. Schermerhorn (1876) p. 395.