Acatalectic means that none of the unstressed or stressed syllables are dropped in the line. The term is rarely used today due to the fact that noting a complete line is far less helpful than noting incomplete lines. The word “catalectic” is more commonly used. As an antonym for acatalectic, it is directly related to it.
Definition of Acatalectic
The word “acatalectic” refers to a line of poetry that’s metrical consistent with the broader pattern. If a line is acatalectic, it has the expected number of syllables, and an unstressed syllable isn’t dropped. Most commonly, the dropped syllable occurs at the end of a line, but it might also occur at the beginning. When a line misses two syllables, it’s known as brachycatalectic.
What is a Catalectic Line?
A catalectic line is a line of poetry in which the final syllable is dropped. When this occurs, the poem breaks its pattern. That might be iambic pentameter, trochaic trimeter, or any other structure the poet has chosen. The word “catalectic” is helpful when readers are looking to understand which lines fit with the overall pattern and which don’t. Its antonym, acatalectic, is easiest to understand when compared to catalectic. Often, the term “headlessness” is used to refer to an example where an unstressed syllable is dropped from the beginning of a line. Generally, literary scholars consider there to be two different types of catalectic lines.
Examples of Acatalectic Lines
In this beautiful Robert Frost poem, the poet describes how a speaker’s mood is changed by a snowfall. It elevates their mood. The lines are all quite short and provide readers with three lines written in perfect iambic dimeter. They are also the first three lines of the poem. They read:
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
The first three lines are acatalectic, meaning they conform perfectly to the pattern that the entire poem is based around. But, the following lines change that and become catalectic.
Explore more Robert Frost poems.
‘Redemption’ by George Herbert is a fourteen-line sonnet that is separated out into quatrains and two tercets. The poem follows a very structured pattern of rhyme and mostly conforms to iambic pentameter. It serves as a great example of lines that can be labeled as acatalectic. Consider the first four lines below:
Having been tenant long to a rich lord,
Not thriving, I resolvèd to be bold,
And make a suit unto him, to afford
A new small-rented lease, and cancel th’ old.
The first line is an example of an acatalectic line in that it has the exact right number of syllables for iambic pentameter. That is a total of ten, separated into groups of unstressed and stressed pairs. In the second line, though, the pattern changes, and a syllable is dropped. Readers can refer to that line as a catalectic line. It does not contain the same number of syllables as the pattern dictates. As is clearly obvious from this example, knowing the term “catalectic” is far more helpful than “acatalectic” is.
Discover more George Herbert poems.
The Robin by Thomas Hardy
‘The Robin’ is a short and uplifting poem that is written almost entirely in iambic dimeter. The poem is written from a robin’s perspective and describes what it’s like to live as this creature. Consider the following lines while trying to count the syllables:
When up aloft
I fly and fly,
I see in pools
The shining sky,
And a happy bird
Am I, am I!
Here, iambic dimeter is used pretty consistently. The first four lines of this excerpt are all acatalectic lines. But, the fifth line, “And a happy bird,” has one more syllable than is needed for the pattern. This is an example of a catalectic line.
Read more Thomas Hardy poems.
To a Skylark by Percy Bysshe Shelley
‘To a Skylark’ is a twenty-one stanza ode that is consistent in its rhyme scheme from the very first to the last stanza. The piece rhymes ABABB, with varying end sounds, from beginning to end. The poem is almost entirely consistent in regard to the meter as well. It’s written mostly in trochaic trimeter. This means that the lines contain three sets of two beats, the first of which is stressed and the second of which is unstressed. Consider these lines and look for examples of acatalectic and catalectic lines:
Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
Bird thou never wert,
That from Heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.
The first line of the poem is an acatalectic line, as is an acatalectic line. This means that it contains the right number of syllables and doesn’t drop any. But, the second line provides a contrast. It is catalectic. In this case, this means it only has five syllables.
Why Do Writers Use Acatalectic Lines?
Acatalectic lines are used when the writer wants to stick to the metrical pattern that the majority of the poem is written in. They are the standard of a piece of poetry. So, if most of the poem is written in iambic pentameter and line three is also written in iambic pentameter, then the line is acatalectic. Writers might choose not to use acatalectic lines when they can’t fit their content into the correct arrangement of syllables.
Or, catalectic lines might be used in order to emphasize another line or a feeling in the poem. Dropping syllables can be quite effective if most of the poem is acatalectic. As poetry has changed over the centuries, the meter has become less important. This means that the words acatalectic and catalectic are less useless than they might’ve been.
Acatalectic is a word that’s rarely used but refers to a metrical consistent line of verse.
In poetry, catalectic refers to a line that loses a syllable in the final metrical foot. It breaks the pattern the writer might be using everywhere else.
This term refers to one’s inability to comprehend or conceive of something.
Related Literary Terms
- Poetic Foot: a foot refers to a unit of meter in poetry. It is a grouping of stressed and/or unstressed syllables.
- Scansion: the analysis of a poem’s metrical patterns. It organizes the lines, metrical feet, and individual syllables into groups.
- Trimeter: one type of meter used in poetry, in which each line has three metrical feet.
- Iamb: a metrical unit. It occurs when two syllables are placed next to one another, and the first is unstressed or short, and the second is stressed or long.
- Anapest: two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed.
- Dactyl: one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables. It is the opposite of an anapest.
- Elision: the removal of part of a word to shorten it. This might be an unstressed syllable, consonant, or letter from a word or phrase.