Mammoth Memory

Dactylic pentameter

 

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

 

Pentameter is five feet per line.

 

 

Example

Pentameter is five feet per line

Are you still standing there east of the Garden of Eden, or
were you relieved by the flood that revised our geography?
Cherubim tasked with protecting the Tree of Life, surely you
saw when that tree was returned to us lifting our Lord on it.
Were you the same angels posted beside the new tomb with the
body of Jesus, the New Tree, provided again for us?

Stan Galloway, from Angels’ First Assignment

This is a rare example of dactylic pentameter in English. Angels’ First Assignment is one of the few poems to take on serious subject matter entirely in dactylic meter. Analysis of any of the lines will show that it contains exactly 15 syllables, with the stressed syllable always preceding two short syllables: “ARE you still STANDing there EAST of the GARden of EDen, or”.

 

Galloway has resisted the temptation to end some of his lines with a different foot – as most poets would have done. He uses dactyls throughout, providing us with a great example of the pure dactylic pentameter form.

 

A closer look at the feet in these lines

 

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

Dactylic Pentameter example

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