Hexameter is a metrical line of verse consisting of six feet. It was the standard epic metre in classical Greek and Latin literature, such as in the Iliad and Aeneid. Its use in other genres of composition include Horace's satires, and Ovid's Metamorphoses. According to Greek mythology, hexameter was invented by the god Hermes. Homer's Odyssey also uses the hexameter verse throughout his poem.(supplementary information from Open University course A219 Exploring the Classical World)
The hexameter has never enjoyed a similar popularity in English, where the standard metre is iambic pentameter; however, various English poems have been written in hexameter over the centuries. There are numerous examples of iambic hexameter from the 16th century and a few from the 17th; the most prominent of these is Michael Drayton's Poly-Olbion (1612) in hexameter couplets. An example from Drayton:
A hexameeter consists of six feet, as mentioned above, which can be two longer syllable (– –) called dactyle, or a longer and two shorter syllabe called sponteus (– υ υ). the first four feet can contain any one of them, but the fifth has to be a sponteus and last one has to be a dactyle. A short syllable (υ) is syllables with a short wovel and one consonant at the end, a long syllable (-) is a syllable that either has a long wovel, two or more consonant at the end (or long consonant), or both. However, spaces between wors don't matter, so for instance "hat" is a short but if it's "hat throw" it's long, because there's the "th" in the next word.
Even though the rules seem simple, it's hard to use hexameter in English, because English leaves vowels and consonants out from words, while hexameter relies on phonetics and sounds always having fixed positions. The only languages having those properties are Greek, Latin, Hungarian and a few minor languages spoken in Africa
In the 17th century the iambic hexameter, or alexandrine, was used as a substitution in the heroic couplet, and as one of the types of permissible lines in lyrical stanzas and the Pindaric odes of Cowley and Dryden.
In the late 18th century the hexameter was adapted to the Lithuanian language by Kristijonas Donelaitis. His poem "Metai" (The Seasons) is considered the most successful hexameter text in Lithuanian as yet.
Several attempts were made in the 19th century to naturalise the dactylic hexameter to English, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Arthur Hugh Clough and others, none of them particularly successful. Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote many of his poems in six-foot iambic and sprung rhythm lines. In the 20th century a loose ballad-like six-foot line with a strong medial pause was used by William Butler Yeats. The iambic six-foot line has also been used occasionally, and an accentual six-foot line has been used by translators from the Latin and many poets.
In the second part of the 20th century hexameter was very successfully used in the longest ever poem, Savitri (book), written in English by Sri Aurobindo.
Full article ▸