The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018


Dactyl: A metrical foot in poetry that consists of one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed ones (ˊ˘˘).

The double dactyl is a form of light verse consisting of eight lines, each composed of two dactyls. The first double dactyl must be a nonsense phrase, the second a person’s name, and the seventh a single word.

EXAMPLES: pórtăbl̆e, márgı̇̆năl, écstăsy̆. Numerous nursery rhymes contain dactyls (“Hі́gglĕdy̆ pі́gglĕdy̆,” “Pát-ă-cak̆e, pát-ă-cak̆e,” “Rі́ngs ŏn hĕr fі́ngĕrs an̆d bélls ŏn hĕr tóes,” etc.).

Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (1854) is dactylic:

Cánnŏn tŏ rі́ght ŏf thĕm,

Cánnŏn tŏ léft ŏf thĕm,

Cánnŏn ĭn frónt ŏf thĕm

Vólleyĕd an̆d thúnder̆ed;

Stórmed ăt wĭth shót an̆d shĕll,

Bóldl̆y thĕy róde an̆d wĕll,

Íntŏ th̆e jáws ŏf Dĕath,

Íntŏ th̆e móuth ŏf hĕll

Róde th̆e sı̇̆x húndrĕd.

The following poem by C. Webster Wheelock, from History Gistory, his unpublished history of the world, is a double dactyl:


Theodore Roosevelt

Bullied his way to the

Top of San Juan:

Muscular buster of

Trusts and a booster of,


Brains under brawn.

The classic rock song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (1967) by the Beatles has a predominantly dactylic rhythm.