Moving Day Approaches
In With The New

Dactyls, On the Double!

This is what comes from reading through the John Hollander-edited American Wits, the American Poets Project’s new collection of light verse, all in one go: I’ve become suddenly enamored of the double dactyl.

The particular rigors of the form are nicely explained here, and a Googling of the phrase “double dactyl” will lead you to more, and better, examples than the three of my own composition that you’ll find below.

The double dactyl requires two quatrains, each consisting of three lines of dactylic dimeter and a concluding choriamb (or, if you will, another dactyl with an extra syllable tacked on.) The final lines of the quatrains must rhyme. In pure form, the first line should be a nonsense phrase -- “higgledy-piggledy” is the classic example -- the second line should consist of the name of a famous real or imagined person -- “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley” fits -- and the sixth line ought to be a single, six-syllable dactyllically diametric word -- such as “phantasmagorical.”

I’ve elected to disregard all but the metrical rules and I’ve tossed in an extra rhyme (lines two and six mostly). So sue me. The double dactyl is a fine form for glib political comment or just for a lark, and no one will ever get the impression that you take yourself too seriously when you use it. So, with that, let's have at it:

Back Channel

Colonel Qadaffi to
One of our diplomats:
“Zounds! What a trouncing you
Handed Saddam!

Allah’s enlightened me.
I took the tip: so that’s
Why I’m renouncing my
Quest for The Bomb.”

Affront Runner

Candidate Dean (he’s a
Doctor from Burlington)
Flaunts his technique: “My rhe-
torical pow’rs

Consist in this method:
I run about hurling
Contempt, then retract it
In 24 hours.”

Simplicity Itself

New York Times, Guardian,
Standard and Telegraph,
Lib’rals, conservatives,
Gog and Magog.

Wond’ring, through each ana-
lytical paragraph,
Where lies the truth? Read it
Here on my blog!

Happy New Year, all!

(Updated 1/7/04 to correct the egregious mis-lineation of the prior version of Dr. Dean's dactyl.)


Michael Snider

Double-dactyls are wonderful, and, given his reputation, it's especially delicious to remember Anthony Hecht was one of the co-inventors. My languishing pre-blog website has a page of double-dactyls by me and others.

For Winter Solstice my wife gave me a copy of Hollander's long out of print Town and Country Matters, and his wittily obscene translations of Catullus sent me back to Charles Martins's translation and on to Martins's new translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses. It's great to find poetry that's fun to read.

The comments to this entry are closed.