Metrical feet and accents
˘ ˘pyrrhic, dibrach
˘ ¯iamb
¯ ˘trochee, choree
¯ ¯spondee
˘ ˘ ˘tribrach
¯ ˘ ˘dactyl
˘ ¯ ˘amphibrach
˘ ˘ ¯anapaest, antidactylus
˘ ¯ ¯bacchius
¯ ¯ ˘antibacchius
¯ ˘ ¯cretic, amphimacer
¯ ¯ ¯molossus
See main article for tetrasyllables.

A dactyl (/ˈdæktɪl/; Greek: δάκτυλος, dáktylos, “finger”) is a foot in poetic meter.[1] In quantitative verse, often used in Greek or Latin, a dactyl is a long syllable followed by two short syllables, as determined by syllable weight. The best-known use of dactylic verse is in the epics attributed to the Greek poet Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey. In accentual verse, often used in English, a dactyl is a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables—the opposite is the anapaest (two unstressed followed by a stressed syllable).[2]

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.

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":[3]

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 and Latin elegiac poetry, which followed a line of dactylic hexameter with dactylic pentameter.

In the opening chapter of James Joyce's novel Ulysses, a character quips that his name is "absurd": "Malachi Mulligan, two dactyls" (Mal-i-chi Mull-i-gan).

See also



  1. ^ "Dactyl - Examples and Definition of Dactyl". Literary Devices. 2015-03-13. Retrieved 2021-06-02.
  2. ^ "What is Poetic Meter? || Oregon State Guide to Literary Terms". College of Liberal Arts. 2020-04-19. Retrieved 2021-06-02.
  3. ^ Stephen Fry (2006), The ode less travelled: unlocking the poet within, Gotham, p. 84, ISBN 978-1-59240-248-9
  4. ^ Kiparsky, Paul; Youmans, Gilbert (2014-05-10). Rhythm and Meter: Phonetics and Phonology, Vol. 1. Academic Press. ISBN 978-1-4832-1853-3.
  5. ^ Fraser, Nettie May (1930). A Study of Meter in Goethe's Faust. University of Wisconsin--Madison.
  6. ^ Finch, Annie (1993). The Ghost of Meter: Culture and Prosody in American Free Verse. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 978-0-472-10405-5.