Pre-Dawn Dactyls [Homage to Stanley Kubrick]

The smoke detectors in our house are wired into the main electrical system. When power fails, as it did for several hours before dawn this morning, the detectors' batteries cause them to emit sad little beeping sounds. This was enough to rouse me from slumber rather earlier than I would have wished. When I've been messing about with double dactyls, as I did yesterday, that meter tends to lodge itself in my head -- can't fight the rhythm! -- and the result was this: a severely digested synopsis of 2001.

Yesterday's Tomorrow Today
[This film has been modified from its original form:
it has been edited to fit these stanzas.]

Odyssey, odyssey:
Meets with a monolith;
Bone = tool.

Later: computer kills
Astronaut; monolith;
Light show; French bedroom. "A
Star Child! How cool!"

Addendum: I omitted when I first posted this to mention that those who are either fans of or utterly perplexed by Mr. Kubrick's film, and those who just want to earn some extra credit, can find a thorough (and lengthy) analysis of its structure and meaning -- in Flash animation no less -- here.

Weight! There's More! [Updated]

On my legally-oriented weblog, I've posted an item tying together growing personal girth and rising insurance premiums. Apropos of a related topic, a double dactyl:

Does This Suit Make Me Look Fat?

Spherical, spherical:
Morbid obesity
Stretches American
Waistbands and belts.

What a catastrophe!
Get thee an advocate!
He’ll fix the blame upon
Somebody Else.


I have been caught dead to rights in the comments section, where it is pointed out that the previous draft of this snippet of verse violates the convention that a double dactyl should invoke the name of a person, real or fictional. As a corrective, I have devised the following alternative version. [I drafted it promptly on receipt of the comment, but have been thwarted in my goal of posting it sooner by some mysterious failure within TypePad’s servers.] Future editors may debate which to include in this Fool’s Collected Works.

Does This Suit Make Me Look Fat?

[Version 2 - now with only 3 grams net carbs!]

Spherical, spherical,
Often mistaken for
Jabba the Hutt or the
Late Orson Welles,

Class action litigants
Sue to recover from
Mickey Ds, Burger Kings
AND Taco Bells.


Time for this weblog to court a little controversy.

A week ago, I crafted a new bit of topical light verse, a double dactyl on the issuance of marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples in San Francisco. Those eight lines quickly took to demanding revisions and additions until two days ago -- coincidentally on the same day as the President announced his support for a Constitutional amendment on this subject -- I wound up with a six-part double dactyl sequence. (Sonnet sequences are hardly uncommon, but the inherently lightweight double dactyl form doesn't generally invite extended acquaintance.) What is more, the poem evolved from its original posture of "oh look, here's a current event I can rhyme about" to a rather more serious, if somewhat simplistic, statement of a position: a libertarian-leaning, "people are people"/"government shouldn't mess with private lives"/"can't we all get along"-based endorsement of gay marriage rights.

After more than a little debate with myself, I persuaded myself to publish the current version of the poem here, for the consideration of anyone who may be interested:



Hymen, Hymenaeus!
Gay men and lesbians
Flock to the City Hall,
Follow their bliss,

Purchase their licenses,
Swear to their permanence,
Pose for the camera crews
Sharing a kiss.


Damned, sir? They’re damned, you say?
Possibly, possibly:
Love has led millions to
Suffer a Fall.

That’s for the next world, sir;
Here with the living -- well,
What was it Chaucer said?
“Love conquers all.”


Poets, sir. Love poets.
Some of the best have been
Gay, sir. Consider this
List I’ve compiled:

Wystan Hugh Auden and
C.P. Cavafy and
Sappho. James Merrill, Thom
Gunn, Oscar Wilde.


Legally, legally,
Should an impediment
Rise to the marriage of
Minds that are true?

Sure as there’s only one
Race, sir -- the human race --
How would you feel if it
Happened to you?


Citizens, citizens,
Leave to your churches these
Questions of sanctity,
Tough and profound.

Secular governments
Ought to facilitate
Binding of lovers who
Yearn to be bound.


Hymen, Hymenaeus!
Cleave to the one who’s your
Heart’s true companion, the
Thou to your I.

Now, when the times are so
Fearsome we all must, as
Auden says, “love one a-
nother or die.”

NOTE: The opening acclamation of sections I and VI is drawn from that naughty Roman Catullus, who in turn was operating under the influence of Sappho. Other references I have presumed to be too obvious to require annotation.

Dactyls of Empire

For those who want a convenient way to seek out -- or to avoid -- the continuing stream of double dactyls being generated on this site, I have added a new category to the archives for that purpose.

This latest was left, it seems, while I was sleeping, under the influence of Fitzgerald's translation of the Aeneid. Readers may recall that Virgil, no doubt meaning to please his target demographic (the Emperor Augustus), includes some disparaging references to our subject in his description of the shield forged for Aeneas by the god Vulcan.

A Roman in the Gloamin'

Orat'ry, orat'ry,
Marcus Antonius:
Lend me your ears."

Conquers at Phillipi,
Conquered at Actium;
All ends in tears.

Sound Advice

Another politically inclined double dactyl for your dining and dancing pleasure:


Single-term president
George Herbert Walker Bush
(W’s dad) offers
Practical tips:

I made a big mistake.
Son, don’t you ever, not
Even rhetorically,
Say: ‘Read my lips!’”


Q: How do you know how many flying prehistoric reptiles you can buy for ten cents?

A: Consult your Dactylic Dimeter.

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.)