Language Is A Virus

Poetry Guide: Dactyl


A dactyl (Gr. δάκτυλος dáktulos, "finger") is an element of meter in poetry. In quantitative verse, such as Greek or Latin, a dactyl is a long syllable followed by two short syllables. In accentual verse, such as English, it is a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables.

An example of dactylic meter is the first line of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem Evangeline, which is in dactylic hexameter :

This is the / forest prim- / eval. The / murmuring / pines and the / hemlocks,

The first five feet of the line are dactyls, and the sixth is a trochee.

A more modern example is the Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds":

Picture your self in a boat on a river with
tangerine tree-ees and marmalade skii-ii-es.

The song is in written in dactylic tetrameter, and has the rhythm of a waltz. The word "skies" takes up a full three beats.