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Octameter

Octameter refers to a line of verse that contains sixteen syllables or eight metrical feet. It is one of the less common patterns in English language verse.

Octameter is used within a variety of poems but is not as common as other forms of meter (like pentameter or trimeter). Often, when a poem is written in octameter, the sixteen syllables are divided into sets of two beats, creating eight metrical feet. 

Octameter definition and examples


Octameter Definition

A line of verse that contains sixteen syllables, or eight metrical feet, is written in octameter. These lines are fairly long, compared to iambic pentameter or trochaic tetrameter lines, and are often hard to spot. 

Of the various ways octameter might be arranged, trochaic octameter is the most common. In this form, the lines contain eight sets of two beats, the first of which is stressed and the second of which is unstressed (it is the opposite of iambic octameter). 

Examples of Octameter in Poetry 

Clancy of the Overflow by Banjo Paterson 

This piece was first published in 1889 and is one of the better-known examples of a poem written in octameter. Specifically, as in the example below, it is written in trochaic octameter. The lines contain sixteen total syllables. Here are a few lines from this poem: 

I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better

Knowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago,

He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,

Just “on spec”, addressed as follows: “Clancy, of The Overflow”.

The poem is often cited as a great example of Paterson’s work. It offers a romantic and idealized view of rural life in Australia. The poem is written from the point of view of a man who has only known city life. It has been suggested that this poem was written, to some extent, from Paterson’s own experience. An entirely different poem, listed below, also provides readers with an example of octameter.

Read more Banjo Paterson poems

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

Without a doubt, ‘The Raven’ is the best-known poem written in octameter. Specifically, it follows trochaic octameter. Again, this means that each line contains eight metrical feet. These pairings contain one stressed syllable followed by one unstressed syllable. Poe uses five lines of trochaic octameter and follows these up with one half-length line that contains around seven beats and has the characteristics of a refrain. Here are a few lines that show off Poe’s use of the pattern: 

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—

            Only this and nothing more.”

Within these lines, readers can easily spot Poe’s use of meter. The first lines contain sixteen syllables each and are easy to break down into their stressed and unstressed beats. For example: 

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary

While there are many examples of rhythmically perfect lines within this poem, Poe often leaned heavily on the use of dactyls. Other lines of this first stanza are good examples of the poet’s use of this specific arrangement of beats.

Read more Edgar Allan Poe poems

March: An Ode by Algernon Charles Swinburne 

Here is the famous first stanza of ‘March: An Odethat provides readers with good examples of octameter. 

Ere frost-flower and snow-blossom faded and fell, and the splendour of winter had passed out of sight,

The ways of the woodlands were fairer and stranger than dreams that fulfil us in sleep with delight;

The breath of the mouths of the winds had hardened on tree-tops and branches that glittered and swayed

Such wonders and glories of blossomlike snow or of frost that outlightens all flowers till it fade

This piece utilizes very long lines that are often separated out into short versions but are still effective examples. 

Read more Algernon Charles Swinburne poems

FAQs 

What is octameter in poetry? 

Octameter refers to the number of syllables within a single line averse in poetry. If a line is written in octameter, the lines contain sixteen syllables. These are generally paired off into sets of two, creating eight metrical feet per line.

How do writers use octameter? 

Writers can use octameter in individual lines of their poems. Often, if readers find a poem containing lines written in this metrical pattern, there will also be examples within that same poem in which the poet breaks the pattern. It is hard to maintain an entire poem where each line has sixteen syllables.

Is octameter popular?

Compared to other metrical patterns, octameter is not a popular use of syllables within English-language verse. This is primarily because octameter creates very long lines.

What is an example of a poem in octameter? 

The best-known example of a poem, in the English language, written and octameter is Edgar Allan Poe’s masterpiece ‘The Raven.’ For example, the first line reads: “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary.” 


Related Literary Terms 

  • Accent: the word “accent” refers to the stressed syllable in a word. Metered lines of verse are made up of different groups of syllables.
  • Amphibrach: a form of meter. It occurs when the poet places an accented syllable, or stressed syllable, between two unstressed or unaccented syllables.
  • Cadence: the natural rhythm of a piece of text, created through a writer’s selective arrangement of words, rhymes, and the creation of meter.
  • Dimeter: a specific arrangement of syllables in poetry. If a poem is written in dimeter, that means that the lines contain four syllables each.
  • Hymn Stanza: uses a rhyme scheme of ABCB and alternates between iambic trimeter and iambic tetrameter.
  • Iambic Pentameter: a very common way that lines of poetry are structured. Each line has five sets of two beats, the first is unstressed, and the second is stressed.


Other Resources 

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