Homeric Dactylic Metronome Experiment

Here’s one for the scansionists, aka poets!

Homeric Dactylic Metronome Experiment by Jr. James

Long short short. A kind of triplet, but with emphasis on the first beat. That makes a foot. Six feet make a line of Homeric style epic poetry–dactylic hexameter. Throw in a foot or two of spondee (long long) for variety’s sake, and because it’s too demanding to make every foot a dactyl. Dactyl, like the bone segments of your fingers.

I always had trouble sussing out the meter in epic poetry. Too many variations, seemingly, to the standard dactylic hexameter, and too hard to fathom the rhythm without a stringed instrument or frame drum accompaniment. Maybe I have been a lazy scansionist. And maybe my Latin is too weak and my Greek nonexistent.

What if we located some dactyl words found frequently in The Iliad and The Odyssey, like “glorious,” and, after recording them, sliced them into a sampler that we could then trigger for a random sampling?

Sharing this experiment in hope that it will illuminate some of the challenges of working with meter. Metronomes for musicians are helpful tools for learning and locking the tempo, but the savvy musician realizes the music needs to breathe–Duke Ellington’s famous adage “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing” should always be front and center. So too for poetry. So don’t let the machine rob the swing. Or, use the machine to advantage and exploit the grid a la Kraftwerk.

As I prepared my experiment, I found some great resources online. Respect due, scholars! Please consult these for a more legit introduction to the topic. 🙂

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