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Think fast! Octopus. Octagon, Octameter. What do they all have in common? No cheating! Got your answer?

They all have something to do with the number eight, of course! Eight legs on an octopus. Eight sides in an octagon. Eight feet in an octameter. Feet in an octameter? Wait, what?

Don't worry. If your knowledge of octameter starts and ends with the fact it has something to do with the number eight, you're already off to a great start. Meter can be one of the most rewarding but intimidating poetic concepts to familiarise yourself with. We're here to make it less of a challenge. Let's look at the meaning of octameter, explore some examples, and then look at some poems written in iambic octameter, dactylic octameter, and trochaic octameter.

Octameter: meaning

Let's get started by defining what an 'octameter' is:

An octameter is a line of poetry that contains eight metrical feet.

This may seem complex, but let's simplify it by breaking down the different parts of the definition. We'll first recap what we mean by 'meter' and 'feet' before we look at how octameter fits into our broader understanding of poetry.

Recap: meter and feet

What is a 'meter'?

A meter is the basic rhythmic structure in a line of poetry. It is the combination of the number of beats per line and which of these beats is stressed.

Figuring out the meter of a line can be accomplished in a few easy steps. Let's use the opening line from William Shakespeare's 'Sonnet 18' (1609) to help us understand the process:

'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day'?

To assess the meter, we must first break the line up into its beats (syllables). Let's do that now:

'Shall / I / com / pare / thee / to / a / sum / mer's / day'

As you can see, this line contains ten syllables. Next, we need to figure out which syllables are stressed and which aren't. A syllable the poet emphasises is known as 'stressed', and any syllables they don't emphasise are known as 'unstressed'.

While it may feel unusual to think about stressing different parts of a word, you'll be surprised to learn that we emphasise certain syllables in everyday conversation all the time!

For example: take a look at the word 'escape':

  • Start by breaking the word up into syllables (es-cape)
  • Say the word out loud and notice which of the two syllables you emphasise more.
  • You should find that you naturally accentuate the second syllable more (es-CAPE). This means that the first syllable is unstressed, and the second is stressed.

In contrast, try stressing the first syllable instead of the second (ES-cape). Notice how odd the word sounds? This is why the meter is vital for writers trying to make their poetry flow smoothly.

With this in mind, let's return to Shakespeare's sonnet and place the stresses in the correct places. If in doubt, try saying the verse out loud slowly to see which syllables you naturally emphasise. You should find that the stresses fall on these syllables:

'Shall / I / com / pare / thee / to / a / sum / mer's / day'

Bold = stressed syllables

As you can see, the line alternates between unstressed and stressed syllables. We can group different combinations of syllables into metrical feet.

A metrical foot is the simplest rhythmic unit in a line of poetry. It consists of two or three syllables. Feet combine to make the overall rhythmic structure, known as a meter.

By looking at how a poet organises unstressed/stressed syllables, we can figure out which category of metrical feet they belong in. Here are the most common categories of metrical feet and the syllable combinations that fit into them:

  • Iamb: unstressed/stressed (da-DUM)
  • Trochee: stressed/unstressed (DA-dum)
  • Spondee: stressed/stressed (DA-DUM)
  • Anapest: unstressed/unstressed/stressed (da-da-DUM)
  • Dactyl: stressed/unstressed/unstressed (DA-da-dum)

Returning to the word 'escape', we established that the first syllable is unstressed and the second stressed (es-CAPE). Referring to the combinations above, we can see that escape is an example of an iamb (unstressed/stressed).

Applying this to Shakespeare's sonnet, we can see that the opening line contains five instances of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.

'Shall / I / com / pare / thee / to / a / sum / mer's / day'

da / DUM / da / DUM /da / DUM / da / DUM / da / DUM

This means that the line contains five instances of iambic feet.

Let's grasp how this relates to octameter.


We've now established that different combinations of syllables make up metrical feet and that metrical feet, in turn, make up the meter of a line.

We determine the 'meter' by counting the number of metrical feet in that line. For example, a line of two feet is known as a 'dimeter', three feet a 'trimeter', and five feet, like in Shakespeare's 'Sonnet 18', a 'pentameter'.

With this in mind, a line of eight feet is known as an 'octameter'.

Now it's all becoming clear! An octameter occurs whenever there are eight separate metrical feet in a line. What type of feet they are doesn't matter as long as there are eight of them. For example, a line containing eight iambs would be known as an iambic octameter, and a line featuring eight trochees would be known as a trochaic octameter.

To put things into perspective, here's how octameter compares with other meters:

  • Monometer = one foot

  • Dimeter = two feet

  • Trimeter = three feet

  • Tetrameter = four feet

  • Pentameter = five feet

  • Hexameter = six feet

  • Heptameter = seven feet

  • Octameter = eight feet

Octameter: example

Let's look at a quick example of an octameter from Rudyard Kipling's 'Mandalay' (1890) before we get into some specific meters.

'I am sick o' wastin' leather on these gritty pavin'-stones,

An' the blasted English drizzle wakes the fever in my bones'

If you say this rhyming couplet from Rudyard Kipling's 'Mandalay' out loud, you should find that you place stress on the first syllable of each line and then continue to alternate between unstressed and stressed syllables.

As we know, a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable (DA-dum) is an example of a trochee. As this line has eight trochees, we refer to the line as trochaic octameter.

But hang on a second... Isn't each line missing one unstressed syllable?

You're correct! You may have noticed that Kipling's verses begin and end with a stressed syllable. This means that one trochee is incomplete. While we still label the poetry trochaic octameter, we refer to this omission of the final syllable as a catalectic line:

A catalectic line occurs when the final syllable is cut off from the last metrical foot of a line.

Catalectic lines are prevalent in trochaic poetry like 'Mandalay', partly due to it being easier to find creative rhymes for stressed syllables over unstressed syllables.

Are you getting the hang of it? Let's look in more detail at another example of trochaic octameter!

Trochaic octameter

While all octameter is rare in poetry, some famous poems make use of its unusual cadence. For example, Edgar Allan Poe's (1809–1849) famous narrative poem 'The Raven' (1845) uses trochaic octameter to great effect. This excerpt features eight instances of alternating stressed/unstressed syllables.

'Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary'

Octameter Edgar Allan Poe StudySmarterFig 1. Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) was one of the few up for the challenge of writing in trochaic octameter.

One reason octameter is so rare is that lines written in the meter are long and can't easily be spoken in one breath by a reader. Octameter also tends to sound like prose unless the poet implements poetic techniques like internal rhyming. For example, Poe rhymes 'dreary' with 'weary', making the line of octameter read poetically.

Internal rhyme is a type of rhyme occurring in the middle of lines of poetry.

It is this need to include internal rhyme that causes some poets to choose the more popular trochaic tetrameter (four trochaic feet per line) for their poetry. If we convert the first line of Poe's 'The Raven' into a rhyming couplet, you'll see that the poem would still be effective in trochaic tetrameter.

'Once upon a midnight dreary,

while I pondered, weak and weary,'

A poet writing in trochaic tetrameter also has more freedom to play with word choice and rhyme schemes because they are less at risk of their work sounding like prose. This means that it requires far less painstaking technical effort on the poet's part.

So why did Poe write in octameter? The most straightforward answer is: because it's unique!

When speaking about his writing process in his essay 'The Philosophy of Composition' (1864), Poe explained that creating a unique structure for 'The Raven' was important to him and that penning something wholly original is what any artist should aspire to achieve.

With this in mind, it's easy to see how octameter provided opportunities for Poe to experiment. Poe plays with alliteration and internal rhyme, drops the final syllable from some lines (catalectic lines), and plays with an unconventional ABCBBB rhyme scheme. It's impossible to say he wasn't trying out something new!

Other well-known poems written in trochaic octameter include Alfred Tennyson's 'Locksley Hall' (1842), Rudyard Kipling's 'Mandalay' (1890), and Banjo Paterson's 'Clancy of the Overflow' (1889).

Dactylic octameter

Dactylic octameter features eight metric feet containing one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables (DA-da-dum). It is an even rarer meter than trochaic octameter. So rare, in fact, that finding examples can be challenging! While Algernon Charles Swinburne's 'Nephelidia' (1904) is not a perfect example of dactylic octameter. It comes pretty close! Here's an extract from the poem:

'Strained as the sinews yet strenuous with strife of the dead who is dumb as the dust-heaps of death'

You'll notice that Swinburne, similarly to Poe, has omitted the final unstressed syllables off of the line, leaving one standalone stressed syllable. This is another form of catalectic line, known as 'brachycatalectic', which occurs when the final poetic foot is two syllables short.

Like internal rhyming, the heavy alliteration in this is an important method to help make octameter sound less like prose.

Iambic octameter

Just like its trochaic and dactylic cousins, iambic octameter is rare and hard to find examples of. Most poets prefer to include fewer syllables per line of poetry, choosing to write in iambic tetrameter or iambic pentameter instead. That said, here's an example of iambic octameter from W.S. Gilbert's (1836–1911) 'The Pirates of Penzance' (1879):

'I am the very model of a modern Major-General,

I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral'

Like many others who write in octameter, Gilbert uses alliteration to make his verse sound more poetic. Without these devices, the long octameter lines may look bland and jarring. In this case, the alliteration gives Gilbert's verse a song-like quality. This makes sense, as this is an excerpt from the 'Major-General's Song' in Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera.

Octameter - Key takeaways

  • An octameter is a line of poetry that contains eight metrical feet.
  • A catalectic line occurs when the final syllable is cut off from the last metrical foot of a line.
  • Octameter is a rare meter because the lines are long and can't easily be spoken in one breath by a reader.
  • Poets writing in octameter often rely on poetic devices like internal rhyming or alliteration to stop their verse from reading too much like prose.
  • Some of the most famous examples of octameter are Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Raven' (1845), Tennyson's 'Locksley Hall' (1842), Rudyard Kipling's 'Mandalay' (1890), and Banjo Paterson's 'Clancy of the Overflow' (1889).

Frequently Asked Questions about Octameter

Octameter occurs when a line of poetry contains eight metrical feet. 

Some of the most famous examples of octameter are Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Raven' (1845), Tennyson's 'Locksley Hall' (1842), Rudyard Kipling's 'Mandalay' (1890), and Banjo Paterson's 'Clancy of the Overflow' (1889).

A line of octameter contains eight metrical feet.

'This verse is in iambic octameter.'

'This poem is an example of dactylic octameter.'

'I like to write my poems in octameter'.

Iambic octameter consists of eight repetitions of an unstressed/stressed pattern. For example, here's an extract from W.S. Gilbert's 'The Pirates of Penzance' (1879): 

'I am the very model of a modern Major-General,

I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral'

Final Octameter Quiz

Octameter Quiz - Teste dein Wissen


What is an octameter?

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An octameter is a line of poetry that contains eight metrical feet. 

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How many metrical feet does an octameter have?

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What is a catalectic line?

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A catalectic line occurs when the final syllable is cut off from the last metrical foot of a line.

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Give an example of a poem that has a catalectic line.

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Rudyard Kipling, 'Mandalay' (1890).

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Octameter is a commonly used meter. Is this true or false?

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Why did Edgar Allan Poe choose to write in octameter?

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Because he wanted to do something unique and felt that originality was the highest form of art.

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Swinburne's 'Nephelidia' is a perfect example of dactylic octameter. Is this true or false?

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How many syllables are omitted when a line is brachycatalectic?

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Brachycatalexis is a form of catalectic line. Is this true or false?

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Which of these poems is not an example of trochaic octameter?

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Rudyard Kipling's 'Mandalay'.

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