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Trochaic tetrameter is a type of metrical structure sometimes used in poetry that indicates a poem written with eight syllables per line that are structured as stressed and unstressed pairs. The word “tetrameter” indicates the meter of this particular type of poem, in this instance the poem is written as lines that each contain four feet, and each foot is a relatively arbitrary division of syllables. This division is specified by the word “trochaic,” which refers to a particular type of arrangement in which each foot contains two syllables with the first syllable stressed and the second unstressed.
Much like other types of metrical designations, trochaic tetrameter is fairly easy to recognize and utilize, though continued usage in a long work may become difficult. The basic structure of this type of meter begins with the second word in the name, “tetrameter.” Tetrameter of any kind refers to a particular meter in which each line of a poem is written with four feet, each foot based on separations of syllables that may be divided independent of word order. This means that a poem written in trochaic tetrameter has four feet per line, while a poem written in trochaic pentameter would have five feet per line.
Each of these feet in trochaic tetrameter is then written as a single “trochee,” hence the word “trochaic.” A trochee is a structure similar to an iamb, found in iambic meters, since it consists of two syllables. As each foot in a poem written in trochaic tetrameter has two syllables, and each line has four feet, then each line of this type of poem has eight syllables in total. While an iamb has an unstressed syllable then a stressed one, a trochee has a stressed syllable then an unstressed one.
An example of a line of trochaic tetrameter could be “Mankind, bold and brave, though short lived.” In this example, the stressed and unstressed syllables could be divided and indicated as “MANkind // BOLD and // BRAVE, though //SHORT lived.” The final foot in this example could be read as two stressed syllables, “SHORT LIVED,” depending on the preferences of the reader, which would make it a spondee rather than a trochee. This type of variation within trochaic tetrameter is quite common, especially for longer works, and keeps the entire poem or written work from becoming monotonous.
One way I remember the difference between trochaic and iambic meter is to sound the words "trochee" and "iamb" in my mind. I will invariably hear "TROchee" and "iAMB", so I know trochaic meter has a stressed, unstressed foot and iambic meter has an unstressed, stressed foot. Most modern poetry readers are probably more familiar with iambic pentameter, with its heartbeat rhythm. Trochaic meter is a little more aggressive, like the driving beat of a drum on a competitive rowing ship.
Some of the Oompa Loompa songs in the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory use a trochaic meter: "OOMpa, LOOMpa, "LOOMpity DOO/I'VE got aNOTHer RIDdle for YOU". It's not perfectly trochaic, but it has the same kind of drive.