Mammoth Memory

Dactylic hexameter


A dactylic foot (known as a dactyl) has a long syllable followed by two short syllables (LSS or /UU)


Hexameter is six feet per line.


Dactylic hexameter is known as the metre of the epic poem – narrative, action poetry that tells the stories of heroes, battles and adventures. This is why it’s sometimes called “heroic hexameter”. Many epic Greek and Latin poems were written in this metre.


However, this doesn’t mean that every foot of every line in a dactylic hexameter poem is a dactyl! As we have seen with other forms of metre, some feet are what might be described as deliberately out of step to give variety.

See if you can spot the dactyls and count the feet in the following:



We’ve put the long stresses in bold in the first line of the following to highlight the dactyls. There are five of them in this first line – the last foot is a trochee (LS, or /U) for rhythmic variation. So there are six feet in all, making this true hexameter. See if you can spot the dactyls and other feet in the rest of this verse:

Hexameter is six feet per line.

This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,

Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,

Stand like Druids of old, with voices sad and prophetic,

Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.

Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighbouring ocean

Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,

From Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie


A closer look at the feet in this line


U = short syllable; / = long syllable; | = division between feet

Dactylic hexameter example

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