Less common metrical feet

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Here are some of the less common types of metrical foot:

1. A pyrrhic - pronounced PIR-ik, IPA: /'pɪr ɪk/ - is a foot of two syllables both of which are unstressed - as in the last two syllables of 'academy' ('-demy') or 'photography' ('-graphy') or in the first two syllables of 'inefficient' ('ineff-') or 'repetition' ('repet-').

Pyrrhics are rare in English poetry; and it is hard to see how there could be a line of verse composed exclusively of pyrrhic feet since it is hard to see how there could be an English phrase of any length which did not have at least one stressed syllable.

Etymological note: the word pyrrhic comes originally from the Greek word purrikhe (πυρῥιχη), which was the name of a war dance in which the rhythms of pyrrhic metrical feet were prominent.


2. A tribrach - pronounced TRI-brak, (IPA: /'trɪ bræk / or TRY-brak, IPA: /'traɪ bræk (or χ)/ - is a metrical foot of three syllables all of which are unstressed - as in the last three syllables of 'indomitable' ('-mitable'), 'cursorily' ('-sorily'), 'customary' ('-tomary') or 'incorrigible' ('-rigible').

Tribrachs are rare in English poetry; and the reason which makes it hard to see how there could be a line of verse composed exclusively of pyrrhics makes it even harder to see how there could be a line of verse composed exclusively of tribrachs.

Etymological note: the word tribrach comes from the Greek word tribrachus (τρἰβραχυς), which means: consisting of three short (syllables).


3. An amphibrach - pronounced AM-fi-brak, IPA: /'æm fɪ bræk (or χ)/ - is a metrical foot of three syllables of which the second is stressed and the first and last are unstressed - as in the words 'defeated', 'commercial', 'diseases', and 'November'.

Here is an example of some lines composed entirely of amphibrachs: they are part of the refrain in Blow, blow, thou winter wind, a song from As You Like It by William Shakespeare (1564-1616). (The divisions between the feet are marked by a vertical line.)


Most friendship | is feigning, | most loving | mere folly:
Then heigh ho, | the holly!
This life is | most jolly.


Etymological note: the word amphibrach comes from the Greek word amphibrachus (ὰμΦἰβραχυς), which means: short at both ends.


4. A choriamb or choriambus - pronounced KORR-i-amb, IPA: /'kɒ (or əʊ)r ɪ æmb/ or korr-i-AMB-ers IPA: /kɒ (or əʊ)r ɪ 'æm bʊs/ - is a metrical foot of four syllables of which the first and last are stressed and the second and third are unstressed - as in the phrases 'jobs for the boys', 'died in the wool', 'pig in a poke', and 'all you can eat'. As you will appreciate, a choriambic foot is in fact a trochee followed by an iambic foot.

There are few poems in English composed entirely in choriambs, but a rare example is the very short poem Trust Thou Thy Love by John Ruskin (1819-1900). Here it is (with the divisions between the feet marked by a vertical line):


Trust thou thy Love: | if she be proud, | is she not sweet?
Trust thou thy Love: | if she be mute, | is she not pure?
Lay thou thy soul | full in her hands, | low at her feet;
Fail, Sun and Breath! - | yet, for thy peace, | She shall endure.


Etymological note: the word choriambus comes from the Greek word khoriambus (χορἱαμβος), which means: consisting of a khorios (i.e., a trochee) and an iambic.

This account of the less common metrical feet fits English poetry, where the metre consists in the patterned arrangement of stressed and unstressed syllables. However, in the poetry of Classical Greece and Rome and in Classical Arabic poetry the metre consists in the patterned arrangement not of stressed and unstressed syllables but of long and short syllables. In this context a choriamb, for example, is a foot consisting of four syllables, the first and last long and the second and third short.


For the more common metrical feet see iambic, trochee, spondee, dactyl, and anapaest.