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Octosyllabic 

Octosyllabic verse, or an octosyllable poem, is a piece of poetry that uses eight-syllable lines. It’s possible to describe an entire poem or a single line as octosyllabic. 

There are a wide variety of poems that qualify as octosyllabic. Any piece of poetry that has eight syllables in a line or that maintains a rhyme scheme that means each line uses eight syllables should be considered. Many different standard metrical patterns include this number of syllables. 

Octosyllabic pronunciation: ahk-toe-seh-luh-bick 

Octosyllabic in Poetry Definition and Examples


Octosyllabic Definition

The term octosyllabic describes a poem that uses eight-syllable lines or a single line of verse that uses eight syllables. One might also refer to a specific metrical pattern, like trochaic tetrameter, as octosyllabic. Below, readers can explore a few of the best examples of octosyllabic poems, many of which are written in well-used, easy-to-remember patterns. 

Metrical Feet in Octosyllabic Verse

When writing an octosyllabic poem, it’s possible to write in free verse or use one or more stress patterns. For example: 

  • Iamb: contains one unstressed and one stressed syllable.
  • Trochee: contains one stressed and one unstressed syllable. 
  • Spondee: contains two stressed syllables.
  • Anapest: consists of three beats, two unstressed and one stressed.
  • Dactyl: consists of three beats, one stressed and two unstressed. 
  • Amphibrach: one stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable and ending with another stressed syllable. 
  • Pyrrhic: two unstressed syllables.

While some of these feet are easier to use than others, each could be used, to some degree, in an octosyllabic poem. For example, a line of four iambs or trochees or a line with two anapests or dactyls and one iamb or trochee. 

Examples of Octosyllabic Poems 

Trees by Joyce Kilmer

Kilmer’s well-loved poem ‘Trees’ was penned in February 1913 and uses consistent lines of iambic tetrameter. These octosyllabic lines contain four sets of two syllables. In each set, the first syllable is unstressed, and the second is stressed. Here are the first four lines: 

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

It’s fairly easy to divide each line into its feet. For example: “I think | that I | shall nev- | er see.” The stressed syllables are in bold (four total), and the unstressed syllables are unbolded (also four total). The lines separate the iambs. 

Explore Joyce Kilmer’s poetry.

The Trees like Tassels — hit — and swung by Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson is well-known for writing in ballad or hymn stanzas. This means that the lines alternate between iambic tetrameter (four sets of iambs) and iambic trimeter (three sets of iambs). The tetrameter lines are octosyllabic. 

Here are two stanzas from ‘The Trees like Tassels – hit – and swung’ as an example: 

The Trees like Tassels — hit — and swung —

There seemed to rise a Tune

From Miniature Creatures

Accompanying the Sun —

Far Psalteries of Summer —

Enamoring the Ear

They never yet did satisfy —

Remotest — when most fair

The odd-numbered lines are octosyllabic (written in iambic tetrameter), while the even-numbered lines are written in iambic trimeter. 

Read more poetry by Emily Dickinson.

At Grass by Philip Larkin 

Larkin’s famous ‘At Grass’ is an octosyllabic poem that uses lines of iambic tetrameter. Within the lines, he speaks on the fate of two famous racehorses who have long since left the track and found a new home in a pasture. The steady pattern includes these lines from the first stanza: 

The eye can hardly pick them out

From the cold shade they shelter in,

Larkin goes on to say: 

– The other seeming to look on –

And stands anonymous again

Discover more Philip Larkin poems

FAQs 

What is an octosyllabic verse? 

A verse that’s described as octosyllabic uses lines that contain a total of eight syllables. The poem does not need to use a specific metrical pattern beyond this or even use a specific arrangement of syllables or stresses. 

Why do poets use octosyllabic lines?

Poets use octosyllabic lines when they want to maintain a steady line length or use a specific metrical pattern. For example, in the ballad or hymn poetic form, lines of iambic tetrameter are used. Or, if a poet wants to write an entire poem in trochaic tetrameter, they will be composing octosyllabic lines. 

What is an octosyllabic word? 

An octosyllabic word is a word that has eight syllables. They’re very long and very rare. Most are medical terms. For example, “didesmethyldoxylamine” and “phenylethylmalonamide.” 

How do you say octosyllabic?

Octosyllabic is pronounced: ahk-toe-seh-bahl-ick. It refers to a word, line of poetry, or an entire poem that uses eight syllables. 

What metrical pattern is octosyllabic? 

There are a few different metrical patterns that use eight-syllable lines. They include iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. Any line that has eight syllables total is octosyllabic.


Related Literary Terms 

  • Burns Stanza: named for Scottish poet Robert Burns who popularized its use. It is a six-line stanza form that uses a rhyme scheme of AAABAB, and lines of tetrameter and dimeter.
  • Hymn Stanza: uses a rhyme scheme of ABCB and alternates between iambic trimeter and iambic tetrameter.
  • Iambic Dimeter: a type of meter used in poetry. It occurs when the writer uses two iambs per line of verse.
  • 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.
  • Monometer: a type of meter that uses single units of meter per line of verse. It could use a single iamb, trochee, etc.


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