A trochee is a metrical unit. It consists of one stressed or accented syllable and one unstressed or unaccented syllable. They are the exact opposite of iambs.

Facts About Trochees

  • The word “trochee” comes from the Greek meaning “to run”.
  • Trochees are commonly used in trochaic tetrameter and trochaic trimeter.
  • Trochees have a “falling rhythm.” This refers to the fact that the stress comes first, and then it falls off into the unstressed beat.
  • The pattern of a trochee can feel mournful and dark.
  • Trochees have momentum, meaning it’s easy to use them to propel the reader forward.
  • Trochaic lines after often catalectic. This means they drop the final unstressed syllable. This is due to the fact that it’s hard to rhyme unstressed syllables.

Trochee Example #1

In Memory of W.B. Yeats by W.H. Auden

Auden dedicated this three-part poem that uses trochees to William Butler Yeats. It is elegiac in nature, making good use of the mournful sound of trochees. Here are a few lines:

In the deserts of the heart

Let the healing fountain start,

In the prison of his days

Teach the free man how to praise.

When bolded, the stresses look like:

Earth, receive an honoured guest;

William Yeats is laid to rest:

Let this Irish vessel lie

Emptied of its poetry.

Each of these lines uses trochees, but they also end with an extra stressed syllable. This is a technique known as catalexis. This is a common feature in this style of verse.

Trochee Example #2

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

‘The Raven’ is a famous example of a poem that uses trochees. It, like ‘In Memory of W.B. Yeats,’ is not completely uniform, though. There are numerous occasions where trochees are discarded, and Poe uses iambs or another metrical foot instead. Here are some of the most famous lines. The bold syllables are stressed.

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!

Each line starts with unstressed beats and lines, two, four, five, and six ends with stressed syllables. These catalectic lines prove that despite breaks in the pattern, using trochaic meter is quite effective.

Other Trochaic Poems to Explore