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I have to write a 24-line poem in Dactylic Hexameter. I looked up what dactyl meant, and I got this answer on wiki:

...a dactyl is a long syllable followed by two short syllables...

What is the difference between a long syllable and a short one?

closed as off-topic by RegDwigнt Oct 14 '13 at 18:50

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  • Actually the full quote is "a dactyl is a long syllable followed by two short syllables, as determined by syllable weight." (Emphasis mine.) That link actually leads to an in-depth explanation, as one would expect. – RegDwigнt Oct 14 '13 at 18:52
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The terminology derives from the prosody of Latin, in which vowel duration was phonemic.

When the terminology is transferred to English prosody, long/short usually means stressed/unstressed. Words like mutiny and capable are dactyls.

You should check with whoever gave you this assignment to determine whether you are to write using dactyls only. Much of the power of the hexameter line lies in maintaining the rhythm while substituting spondees or trochees for individual dactyls. Typically there is a 'caesura', a break in the pattern, on the third foot, and the final foot is almost always disyllabic.

Dactylic hexameter has been very rare in English. The best known piece is probably Longfellow's Evangeline, which starts

This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of old, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.

Note that none of the lines is strictly dactylic: all end on a trochee or spondee, all but the first and last have a 3d-foot caesura, and lines 3 4 and 5 have more non-dactylic feet.

  • In proper English, when would a syllable be stressed/unstressed? – naish2013 Oct 14 '13 at 18:04
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    @naish Stressed syllables are those spoken more loudly than those to either side of them - you might have heard this named an 'accented' or 'emhphasized' syllable. This is the for-est pri-me-val the Mur-muring pines and the hem-locks – StoneyB Oct 14 '13 at 18:34

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