12 Retro Syllables

English: Christopher Marlowe's memorial IN the...

Sure, Marlowe’s dead now but first he took out the popularity of 12-syllable verse. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The precursor to iambic pentameter (in terms of popularity), the alexandrine line was quite big in European verse. A line of 12 syllables (making it hexameter but not necessarily iambic), French and German poets and playwrights used the alexandrine for many of their works, until it was supplanted by Marlowe’s and Shakespeare’s popularizing of iambic pentameter. It was famously mocked by Alexander Pope, who “characterized the alexandrine’s potential to slow or speed the flow of a poem in two rhyming couplets consisting of an iambic pentameter followed by an alexandrine:

A needless alexandrine ends the song
that like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along.”

Next time some hipster tries to shame you with their knowledge of some obscure band, try hitting them up with some alexandrine verse. NOW who’s obscure, hmm?

2 comments on “12 Retro Syllables

  1. What I find with longer lines (such as hexameters), you tend to read them quicker. They feel too long to take time, so the pace actually gets a bit faster, (and vice versa with lines with less than five beats). That’s why narrative poems tend to use the hexameter.

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