Trochaic Definition

Trochaic an adjective of trochee is a metrical foot composed of two syllables; stressed followed by an unstressed syllable. This rhythmic unit is used to make up the lines of poetry. However, it is deliberately inserted to make the text sound different. The material pattern of trochee is composed of “falling rhythm” as the stress is at the beginning of the foot. It, however, plays a great role when writing about dark subjects like madness and death. Etymologically, trochee is derived from a Greek word, “trokhaios” which means ‘to run.’

Types of Trochaic Meter

  • Trochaic Tetrameter: It is a type of meter consisting of four stressed syllables per line. For example, “By the shores of Gitche Gu”.
  • Trochaic Heptamer: It is a type of meter consisting of seven stressed syllables per line. Such as, “Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and”.
  • Trochaic Pentameter: It is a type of meter consisting of five stressed syllables per line. “And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor”.
  • Iambic Trimeter: It is a type of meter consisting of three stressed syllables per line. For example, “This has neither wax nor”.
  • Catalexis: The absence of a syllable in the final foot in a line is called catalexis.

Examples of Trochaic from Literature

Example #1

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!”

Written by Edgar Allan Poe, a famous American poet, this poem is a superb composition of a mystery of the arrival of a raven. The poem shows fear, uncertainty, and loneliness of a person, who is a victim of unfortunate circumstances. At the same time, “The Raven” is one of the most well-known trochaic poems ever written. Its lines two, four, five and six end on stressed syllables that break the conventional stressed-unstressed pattern of the trochaic meter. Poe has used catalexis strategy in which he has deliberately dropped the final syllable of a line to create a pause or a rhyme.

Example #2

Song of the Witches by William Shakespeare

“Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
Scale of dragon; tooth of wolf;
Witches’ mummy; maw and gulf…”

This extract has taken from one of the famous plays of William Shakespeare, Macbeth. The witches sing this song as they intend to curse Macbeth. Though most of Shakespeare’s works are written in iambic pentameter, where he has used a trochaic meter to give a strange feeling to the charm, he presents for the witches in this play. This backward stress pattern of the trochaic meter is highly effective to create the blank rhythm widely used in magic words.

Example #3

In Memory of W.B. Yeats by W. H. Auden

Earth, receive an honoured guest;
William Yeats is laid to rest:
Let this Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.”

The poet has expressed his profound sadness over his friend’s death. He has skillfully inserted trochaic trimeter in the poem to express his feelings. It is due to the melancholy tone created by the downward emphasis of the trochee that the poet has expressed his grief. However, the unstressed syllable at the end of each line is dropped to create end rhyme in the poem. Also, the dropping of a syllable has created a pause that completes the line in itself.

Example #4

Sorrow by Edna St. Vincent Millay,

Sorrow like a ceaseless rain
Beats upon my heart.
People twist and scream in pain, —
Dawn will find them still again;
This has neither wax nor wane,
Neither stop nor start.”

The poem deals with the subject of sorrow. The poet has presented his version of sorrow in contrast with others. However, the poet has used trochaic diameter, emphasizing the conspicuous downward beat of the poet’s pensive mood. He has also used catalexis technique to make the rhyme scheme possible. In other words, he has deliberately omitted the last unstressed syllable of each line.

Example #5

The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“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?”

The Song of Hiawatha is a famous epic of English literature and comprises the brave and magical deeds of its hero performed in the pristine American land. It is about his visits with members of the Ojibwe, Black Hawk and other American tribes. However, this poem uses the trochee as a primary metrical foot. Henry has also skillfully used trochaic tetrameter line after line.

Trochaic Meter Meaning and Function

The trochee is the pause for the audience. It gives them a chance to enjoy a different type of poetry. It also allows them to understand the mood and tone of the poem.  Although it is not frequently used in poetry, yet trochaic meter helps elucidate the rolling effect of the verses. Also, the trochaic meter has a powerful forward momentum that usually makes the meter feel incessant. However, its unusual metrical pattern makes it difficult to use.