Is there a name for the meter used in Clementine:

Drove she ducklings to the water
Every morning just at nine
Struck her foot against a splinter
Fell into the foaming brine

Or in Schiller's Ode to Joy?

Freude, schöner Götterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!

Most descriptions I've seen of trochaic tetrameter don't mention the possibility of the lost syllable on alternate lines.

  • See literature.stackexchange.com/questions/3079/… (not entirely sure if the questions are duplicates).
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2 Answers 2


I have not been able to find a name for this in the literature on poetic forms that I consulted in English, German or Dutch.

The English-language sources I have consulted include the following:

  • Trochaic tetrameter on Wikipedia, which gives examples in various languages without mentioning a named form that alternating eight-syllable and seven-syllable lines.
  • Catalectic on Wikipedia, which gives examples of catalectic and acatalectic lines, including tetrameters, without mentioning a literary term that might describe this verse form. The seven-syllable trochaic tetrameters are catalectic (ending with an incomplete foot); the eight-syllable ones are acatalectic.
  • Masculine and feminine endings on Wikipedia, which points out that '"Masculine ending" refers to a line ending in a stressed syllable. "Feminine ending" is its opposite, describing a line ending in a stressless syllable.' The article gives examples of this that use tetrameters (e.g. from Longfellow's "A Psalm of Life", also discussed below), but no specific name for this verse form is mentioend.
  • The Poetry Forms Index on Poets Collective, which even includes recently invented forms and lists various forms that rely on tetrametres.
  • Grammar of English grammars; or Advanced manual of English grammar and language by Jacob Lowres (1863) gives examples of trochaic tetrameter from Addison and Pope on page 294 and adds an observation about syllable counts:

    This last measure is seldom used by itself, being generally found alternately with lines of seven syllables. This variety froms on of the commonest trochaic measures in use.

  • The Handbook of English Literature by Joseph Angus (1865) discusses tetrameter on page 280–281. The entry "Tetrameter hypermetrical" lists examples of several variants, including the following:

    Of eight lines mixed, with verses of seven syllables, and three rhymes (1,5: 2, 4, 6, 8: 3, 7), Jonson's Drink to me only.
    With verses of seven syllables, without stanzas, Milton's L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, part of Comus, Epitaph on Marchioness of Winchester.

  • The Holy Year; or, Hymns for Sundays, holydays, and daily use compiled by Christopher Wordsworth (sixth edition, 1872) discusses a type of hymn that relies on the trochaic tetrameter on pages xxxii–xxxiii:

    But it may well admit of a doubt, whether this trochaic measure is appropriate at such solemn seasons as that of Advent, when the Church is meditating on the awful transactions of the Day of Judgment. And yet the Hymn on the Second Advent, which is most familiar to English ears, is composed in a tetrameter trochaic broken into two parts, and rendered more joyful by double rhymes,— (...). The mention of this Hymn may introduce the remark that the magnificent ancient tetrameter trochaic of fifteen syllables, to which reference must be made, has now unfortunately, but almost universally, been broken into two parts, the former consisting of eight, the latter of seven syllables. The bi-section of the verse,—which seems to have been occasioned by the exigences of Printing, not being able to include the fifteen syllables in narrow double columns,—has been a serious evil to Hymnology.

  • A catechism for the harmonium by John Hiles (1877) provides the following definition:

    A Sevens hymn consists of stanzas of four lines, of seven syllables each—or four troachic feet, wanting the unaccented syllable in the last. A footnote adds that "And hence the seven's measure is called in poetic metres teh trochaic tetrameter catalectic measure."

  • Elements of Composition by Virginia Waddy (1889) discusses trochaic verse on pages 344–345. It states that

    The most common form of trochaic meter is the tetrameter, in alternate lines of eight syllables and seven. The line of seven syllables is denominated catalectic; (...). This forms a favorite hymn measure; the usual 8's and 7's of our hymns.

  • Orthometry: A Treatise on the Art of Versification and the Technicalities of Poetry, with a New and Complete Rhyming Dictionary by Robert Frederick Brewer (1895) discusses tetrameter on pages 132–134:

    But besides these [licences], there is another licence very generally extended to the trochaic; viz. that of cutting off part of the concluding syllable. This is allowed in every species of the trochaic verse, whether of two, three, or four feet; so that we have lines of three, five, and even seven syllables, and many specimens of them have been given already.

  • A Study Guide for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "A Psalm of Life" (Gage, Cengage Learning, 2016, snippet view on Google Books) discusses meter, focusing on the two lines "Art is long, and Time is fleeting // And our Hearts, though stout and brave", adding the following comments:

    The poem is written in trochaic tetrameter. (...) Consider, for example, the first line of the fourth stanza. When we scan the line, or identify its stresses, it appears as follows: (...)
    As you can see, this line has four trochees; the line as a whole contains eight syllables. If you scan the next line, however, you'll notice that it has only seven syllables: (...)
    The line has four stresses, but only three complete trochees, because Longfellow has eliminated the final unstressed syllable. This dropping of the final syllable in a line of verse is called caTatexis. Throughout the poem, the first and third lines of each stanza have eight syllables, but the second and fourth lines have only seven: they are caTatectic. By leaving off the final unstressed syllable, Longfellow requires the reader to take a brief pause. This short pause slows the pace of the poem, adding to this somber tone.
    Not incidentally, the stanza form that "A Psalm for Life" uses—two eight-syllable lines alternative with two seven-syllable lines—is also used in many Protestant hymns.

What the above sources, especially those from the 19th century, show is that authors of literature manuals are very familiar with the form, even pointing out that it is "one of the commonest trochaic measures in use" (Lowres) but never mention that it might have a name of its own, except as a type of hymn. The Longfellow example shows that even in a discussion that introduces technical terms such as "caTatexic" (with a capital T in the third position; of course, the intended meaning is "catalectic"), no name is given to this specific verse form, even though that may be reasonably expected here.

The situation is similar in German-language sources, where is trochaic tetrameter is known as the trochäischer Vierheber:

  • Vorschule der Dichtkunst by Heinrich Viehoff (1860) lists a number of metrical froms on page 16, including (2) "ein vollständiger trochäischer Dimeter" (literally "a complete trochaic dimeter", i.e. what is know in English as a complete trochaic tetrameter) and (11) "ein einsilbig verkürzter trochäischer Dimeter", i.e. a trochaic tetrameter shortened by one syllable. In the discussion that follows, there is no mention of a name for a type of stanza that uses alternating acatalectic and catalectic trochaic tetrameters.
  • Jahresbericht über die Fortschritte der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft (1885) discusses, among other things, metrical aspects of Roman drama:
    1. Andere kretische Versarten dagegen, wie die Verbindung der katalektischen trochäischen Tripodie und eines kretischen Dimeters, also die Umkehrung des soeben besprochenen Verses, sowie Dimeter mit akatalektischer trochäischer Tripodie und katalektische Tetrapodien und akatalektische Dipodie sind unzulässig; (...).
  • Beiträge zur Geschichte und Erklärung der ältesten Kirchen-hymnen by Johann Kayser (1886) discusses acatalectic and catalectic trochaic tetrameters on page 79, stating:

    Mithin zählt der Vers in der Regel acht, respective sieben Silben. Ich sage in der Regel; denn nach seinem Vorbilde erlaubt sich Thomas zuweilen eine freiere Behandlung der Verse. (...)

  • A discussion of Schiller's Ode an die Freude on the webiste of the Friedrich Schiller Archiv in Weimar (Germany) mentions that the poem uses the vierhebiger Trochäus and alternating masculine and feminine rhymes but does not mention that there might be a specific term for this verse form.

In Dutch, the Algemeen letterkundig lexicon defines over 4,600 literary terms but its entry for tetrameter mentions no names of specific variants.

Based on the above findings, I doubt that there is a specific terms for a trochaic tetrameter with alternating lines of eight and seven syllables. In order to describe this type of verse form, it appears to be necessary to rely on terms such as catalectic and acatalectic (with reference to meter) or masculine and feminine rhyme (of that applies to the rhyme).

  • Copying OP's comment from the question body: "Thank you Tsundoku for your superb answer. StackExchange, weirdly, says I haven't enough reputation to comment on your answer, but I feel the need to acknowledge it somehow, so let me break protocol by doing so here."
    – bobble
    Commented Jul 30, 2021 at 2:31

I would call it trochaic tetrameter with alternating feminine and masculine rhymes. Even though it a fairly common meter, I don't know a better name for it.

If you leave out the last syllable of a trochaic line of poetry, it's called a catalectic line. So if all the lines of your poem had trochaic feet with the last foot reduced to one syllable, this would be called catalectic trochaic tetrameter.

But saying trochaic tetrameter with catalectic alternate lines is much too cumbersome a phrase, whereas alternating feminine and masculine rhymes is easier to understand (if not shorter).

A feminine ending of a line of iambic poetry ends on an unstressed syllable, while a masculine ending ends on a stressed syllable. It is fairly common to alternate feminine and masculine endings in English poetry. Another example of this meter is Housman's poem Reveillé, which begins:

Wake: the silver dusk returning
   Up the beach of darkness brims,
And the ship of sunrise burning
   Strands upon the eastern rims.

Wake: the vaulted shadow shatters,
   Trampled to the floor it spanned,
And the tent of night in tatters
   Straws the sky-pavilioned land.

There are also poems where only the lines with masculine endings rhyme. You can describe these by the phrase "with alternating feminine and masculine endings." A good example of these is Maya Angelou's poem Equality, containing the following stanza:

Take the blinders from your vision,
take the padding from your ears,
and confess you've heard me crying,
and admit you've seen my tears.

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