Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Monday, April 7, 2014


    Consider these two lines from the first and second sections, respectively, of Lord Byron's 1813 poem, "Bride of Abydos":

Where the citron and olive are fairest of fruit,

The mind within, well skilled to hide

    Now compare the two lines from the octet and sestet of Dr. A.W. Niloc's elegiac sonnet, "Grasshopper":

The world won't change for one so small

as the guide of my passing and mother to my dreams.

    What is remarkable about these verses?

Grasshopper uploaded by Earl Gray onto Vimeo.

     We've seen poems that have more than one meter in the same cadence.  For example, we have the "common meter" of many hymns, including "Amazing Grace", alternating between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
was blind, but now I see.

     Similarly, T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" has no less than four meters, all iambic:  trimeter, tetrameter, pentameter and heptameter.

     What distinguishes "Bride of Abydos" and "Grasshopper" from Amazing Grace" and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is the change in cadence between iambic and anapestic.

From Section I:
Where the citron and olive are fairest of fruit,

From Section II:
The mind within, well skilled to hide

From the octet:
The world won't change for one so small

From the sestet:
as the guide of my passing and mother¹ to my dreams.

     Compare how jarring the iambic versus anapestic transition is compared to the smooth, seamless drifting between trinaries, from amphibrachs and anapests and back again, in Leonard Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat":

It's four in the morning, the end of December

And you treated my woman¹ to a flake of your life

Sincerely, L. Cohen

      The startling effect of mixing trinary (e.g. dactyls, amphibrachs or anapests) sections or stanzas with binary (e.g. trochees or iambs) ones defines the DATIA.  A complete DATIA uses all five cadences of the acronym:  Dactyls, Anapests, Trochees, Iambs and Amphibrachs.  An example is "Tecumseh" (who was aka "Shooting Star" or "Panther That Crouches In Wait"):

You, Canadian? The greatest American? You fought to be neither, but nor
were you panther that crouches in wait. You were egret, your feet in the mud
as you stood above weeds. Both your fathers would leave you to war.
Brock would say no more valorous warrior exists. Sure as apple trees bud,

the pleas of a peacemaker can't be imparted
while even your traplines have got to be guarded.

Time was gravity, as shooting stars descended.
Time was charity, and at the Thames it ended.

The cities were the bellows of the wind that blew
at Prophetstown, across the rivers, over you.
Gray wolves surround as foxes slink away,
their coats the color of your blood. You'd say:

"Sing your death song and then die like a hero returning home."
Yours was the song of that egret, your life like a burning poem.

     The meters of the stanzas are:   

1 Anapestic Hexameter
2 Amphibrachic Tetrameter
3 Trochaic Hexameter
4 Iambic Pentameter
5 Dactyllic Pentameter

     Note that the stanzas/sections can switch in midsentence.

     The rare but venerable DATIA is perfect for longer poems with different speakers, moods, plot points, time periods, perspectives, et cetera.  The catch is that they require a certain level of mastery.

     Trivia Question:  Other than the fact that they are both DATIAs, what do "Tecumseh" and "Bride of Abydos" have in common?  Hint:  You don't need to use any words in your answer.


¹ - In essence, "mother" ("moth'r") and "woman" ("wom'n") are scanned as one syllable.

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Earl Gray, Esquirrel

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