Trochaic Tetrameter

troh-kay-ick teh-tram-eh-tuhr

Trochaic tetrameter is a metrical pattern that involves using four trochees in a regular pattern. Each trochee is made up of one stressed syllable and one unstressed syllable. 

E.g. This line from 'The Song of Hiawatha' is written in trochaic tetrameter: "By the shores of Gitche Gumee."

Trochaic tetrameter is one of the most popular metrical patterns in the English language. However, it is not used nearly as much as iambic pentameter. Other common meters include iambic tetrameter and trochaic pentameter

Trochaic Tetrameter Definition and Examples

What is Trochaic Tetrameter?

Trochaic tetrameter is a common metrical pattern that can be seen throughout the history of poetic verse writing. The pattern is used in all styles of poetry dating back centuries and up to the present day. It is usually found in the form of a quatrain or four-line poem. Trochaic tetrameter provides a sing-song quality to the poem, lending it an air of musicality.

It can be seen when the poet uses a pattern of four troches in every line averse. This means that each line contains four sets of two syllables, the first syllable is stressed, and the second syllable is unstressed.

Metrical Patterns that Use Trochees

Trochaic tetrameter is not the only metrical pattern that utilizes trochees. Look over the following examples to get a better understanding how why a poet might choose to use tetrameter rather than pentameter or trimeter

  • Trochaic Trimeter— a meter that consists of three sets of two beats, the first of which is stressed and the second unstressed.
  • Trochaic Heptamer— a meter that consists of seven stressed syllables in one line. Often breaking the consistent structure of a trochee.
  • Trochaic Pentameter— a meter that consists of five stressed syllables in one line.

Examples of Trochaic Tetrameter in Poetry 

The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 

Longfellow’s poetic masterpiece, ‘The Song of Hiawatha,’ includes a wonderful section in which the poet used trochaic tetrameter repetitively. Here are a few of the lines with the stressed syllables in bold:

By the shores of Gitche Gumee,

By the shining Big-Sea-Water,

Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,

Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.

Dark behind it rose the forest,

Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,

The poet starts each line with a stressed syllable, like “By” and “Stood,” and follows it with an unstressed syllable, like “the.” From these examples, readers will also find that it’s possible and common for trochees to cut words in half. For example, the first syllable of “Daughter” is stressed, and the second syllable, “-ter” is unstressed. 

Explore more Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poems

The Explosion by Philip Larkin 

Larkin’s ‘The Explosion,’ was published in 1970 and included in High Windows, his 1974 collection. Although he’s not often cited as an author who used meter regularly, this poem is a good example. Take a look at the first stanza of ‘The Explosion’ as an example: 

On the day of the explosion

Shadows pointed towards the pithead:

In the sun the slagheap slept.

The first line uses four stressed syllables, “On,” “day,” “the,” and “-plo” and four unstressed syllables that follow them, “the,” “of,” “ex,” and “-sion.” 

Read more Philip Larkin poems

Why Do Poets Use Trochaic Tetrameter? 

Trochaic tetrameter is a poetic meter with a unique rhythm that offers great potential for creativity. This meter is composed of lines of four trochees, which are two-syllable phrases with the first syllable being accented (stressed) and the second being unaccented (unstressed).

The trochees in each line of trochaic tetrameter create a rhythmic pattern that is both pleasing to the ear and inviting to the reader. The combination of eight trochees also creates a feeling of momentum and can be used to emphasize certain words or ideas. 

In addition to its pleasing sound, trochaic tetrameter is easy to remember and, therefore, can be used to write poems quickly and effectively (or to memorize them). Thus, poets often choose to use trochaic tetrameter when they wish to create a memorable and powerful poem that will stay in the minds of their readers.


How to spot trochaic tetrameter? 

The easiest way to decide which meter a poet is using is to read the poem out loud, count the syllables and then decide which words are stressed and unstressed. If the poem is in trochaic tetrameter, every other word, starting with the first, will feel stronger and louder, and there will be a total of eight syllables per line. 

Why is trochaic tetrameter important? 

Trochaic tetrameter is important because it’s one of the most popular ways of providing a poem with structure. While not all poets are going to use a magical pattern, many are. Of those who choose to use a type of meter, trochaic tetrameter is usually near the top of the list. 

What is an example of trochaic tetrameter?

In Longfellow’s ‘The Song of Hiawatha,’ he used a few sections of verse that utilize this pattern. They are more song-like and pattern-based than other sections of his long poem. 

Related Literary Terms 

  • Amphibrach: a form of meter. It occurs when the poet places one accented syllable, or stressed syllable, between two unstressed or unaccented syllables.
  • Anacrusis: occurs when the poet includes an extra unstressed syllable at the beginning of a line of verse. This unstressed syllable is not part of the metrical pattern.
  • Dactyl: one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables. It is the opposite of an anapest.
  • Heptameter: a type of meter in which each line in a poem uses seven metrical feet for a total of fourteen syllables.
  • Poetic Foot: a poetic foot refers to a unit of meter in poetry. It is a grouping of stressed and/or unstressed syllables.
  • Pyrrhic: a metrical foot that contains two unstressed syllables. The foot is less common today than it was in classical Greek poetry. 
  • Rhythm: refers to the use of long and short stresses, or stressed and unstressed, within the writing.

Other Resources 

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