Trochees are the exact opposite of iambic pentameter, meaning that the first syllable is stressed and the second is unstressed.
The word “trochee” comes from the Greek meaning “to run”. Most commonly you will find trochees associated with trochaic tetrameter. This is when there are four sets of two beats per line.
It looks like this when the scansion is written out:
Trochee: / U
Explore Trochaic Meter
Definition and Explanation of Trochaic Meter
Trochaic meter is often described as having a “falling rhythm”. This refers to the fact that the stress comes first and then it falls off into the unstressed beat. This is in contrast to an iambic meter which has a rising rhythm (the stress comes first followed by the unstressed beat). Iambs are by far the most popular way to structure metrical feet in poetry, but there are benefits to using a trochaic meter. For instance, the beats feel mournful in a way that the power iambic feet do not. Often darker texts, such as ‘The Raven,’ (see example below), make use of this pattern. Over the history of poetry, comparing trochaic poems and iambic poems, the latter is far more consistent. It is more difficult to continuously write trochees due to the odd ways in which lines must be arranged to keep the beats in the correct order.
Accentual and Quantitative Verse, and Trochees
When trying to understand how writers use trochees, it is also important to touch on the differences between accentual and quantitative verse. The first refers to a type of meter that takes its stresses from the placement of syllables. this is the most common way in which poems are arranged. The latter is a bit different. It refers to a pattern of verses that si concerned with the length of syllables rather than the actual stress. The length, or the time it takes to pronounce the word, means the trochee in quantitative verse is also different. It is made up of two syllables the first of which takes longer to pronounce than the second. English verse has very few examples of quantitative meter, rather, interested readers should look for examples in Greek and Latin poetry.
Types of Trochaic Meter
Just like with all the metrical patterns, there are numerous ways to arrange trochaic feet.
- Trochaic Tetrameter— refers to a meter that consists of four sets of two beats, the first of which is stressed and the second unstressed.
- Trochaic Trimeter— meter that consists of three sets of two beats, the first of which is stressed and the second unstressed.
- Trochaic Heptamer— meter that consists of seven stressed syllables in one line. Often breaking the consistent structure of a trochee.
- Trochaic Pentameter— meter that consists of five stressed syllables in one line.
Why Do Writers Use Trochaic Meter?
There are several reasons why a poet might choose to utilize trochees. It is composed of what is known as a “falling rhythm,” this refers to the fact that the stress happens first and then the unstressed beat falls from it. This kind of meter is slower, but with a momentum that leads the reader forward. It is often used to increase the drama of verse, such as in ‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allan Poe and ‘The Tyger’ by William Blake.
Examples of Trochaic Meter in Poetry
Example #1 The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
It can be combined, just as the iamb can, with any number of syllables. Let’s take a look at the first line from ‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allan Poe which is almost entirely written in trochaic tetrameter. This means that each line contains four, rather than five, sets of beats. The first, as stated above, is going to be stressed and the second unstressed.
/ U / U / U / U / U / U / U / U
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
There are three other common ways in which syllables can be arranged. They can be spondaic, dactylic, or anapestic. In contrast to the last two arrangements of syllables, the two latter forms depend on the syllables coming in sets of threes.
Example #2 Sorrow by Edna St. Vincent Millay
‘Sorrow’ is a solid example of a trochaic meter. It is also an example of catalexis. This pattern makes perfect sense for the subject matter of the poem. Take a look at the second stanza from the poem:
People dress and go to town;I sit in my chair.All my thoughts are slow and brown:Standing up or sitting downLittle matters, or what gownOr what shoes I wear.
Example #3 In Memory of W.B. Yeats by W.H. Auden
This three-part poem that is dedicated to William Butler Yeats makes use of the trochaic pattern in the final section. This is the part of the poem that is most elegiac in nature. Take a look at this stanza from the poem:
In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.
This is an interesting example as the last syllable from each line is unstressed. This was done in order to keep the rhyme consistent, a technique known as catalexis.
There are no direct synonyms for trochaic meter or trochee. But some related words are metrical foot, foot, falling meter, and metrical unit.
Related Literary Terms
- Free Verse–lines are unrhymed and there are no consistent metrical patterns. But, that doesn’t mean it is entirely without structure.
- Blank Verse— poetry that is written in unrhymed lines but with a regular metrical pattern.
- Anapestic Meter— two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed.
- Iambic Pentameter— one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable. The most popular metrical pattern.
- Dactylic Meter–one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables. It is the opposite of an anapest.
- Spondee Meter–an arrangement of two syllables in which both are stressed.