Metrical feet
˘ ˘ pyrrhus, dibrach
˘ ¯ iamb
¯ ˘ trochee, choree
¯ ¯ spondee
˘ ˘ ˘ tribrach
¯ ˘ ˘ dactyl
˘ ¯ ˘ amphibrach
˘ ˘ ¯ anapest, antidactylus
˘ ¯ ¯ bacchius
¯ ¯ ˘ antibacchius
¯ ˘ ¯ cretic, amphimacer
¯ ¯ ¯ molossus
Number of feet per line
one Monometer
two Dimeter
three Trimeter
four Tetrameter
five Pentameter
six Hexameter
seven Heptameter
eight Octameter
See main article for tetrasyllables.
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An Alexandrine is a line of verse comprising 12 syllables. and in French poetry of the early modern and modern periods.

Alexandrines in Frency=Edit

In syllabic verse, such as that used in French poetry, an alexandrine is a line of 12 syllables. Most commonly, the line is divided into 2 equal parts by a caesura (a pause or break, often idicated by punctuation) between the 6th and 7th syllables. Sometimes a line is divided into 3 4-syllable sections by 2 caesuras.[1]

The Alexandrine is the leading measure in French poetry. It is the heroic French verse, used in epic narrative, in tragedy and in the higher comedy.[2]

There is some doubt as to the origin of the name; but most probably it is derived from a collection of romances, collected in the 12th century, of which Alexander of Macedon was the hero, and in which he was represented, somewhat like the British Arthur, as the pride and crown of chivalry. Before the publication of this work most of the trouvère romances appeared in octosyllabic verse. There is also a theory that the form was invented by a poet named Alexander.[2]

The new work, which was set the fashion to French literature, was written in lines of 12 syllables, but with a freedom of pause which was afterwards greatly curtailed. The new fashion, however, was not adopted all at once. The meter fell into disuse until the reign of Francis I, when it was revived by Jean Antoine de Baïf, one of the 7 poets known as the Pleiades.[2]

Jodelle mingled episodical Alexandrines with the vers communs of his tragedies and so introduced them into drama. It was Pierre de Ronsard, however, who made the verse popular, and gave it vogue in France. From his time it became the recognized vehicle for all great poetry, and the regulation of its pauses became more and more strict. The following is an example of the verse as used by Racine (The caesura after the 6th syllable is indicated by || ) —

Où suis-je ? qu'ai-je fait? ⁠|| que dois-je faire encore?
Quel transport me saisit? || quel chagrin me dévore?[2]

Racine's use of the Alexandrine made it the national verse of France, just as Chaucer's and Shakespeare's use of iambic pentameter made that the national verse of England.[1]

2 inexorable laws came to be established with regard to the pauses: (1) that each line should be divided into 2 equal parts, the 6th syllable always ending with a word (whereas in the earlier use of this meter, frequently the 6th and 7th syllables belonged to the same word); and (2) except under the most stringent conditions, there should be none of what the French critics call enjambement, that is, the overlapping of the sense from one line on to the next.[2]

Ronsard completely ignored the 2nd rule, which was after his time settled by the authority of Malherbe. Later schools of French prosody gave great attention to the breaking up of the Alexandrine, which no longer possesses the rigidity of authoritative form which it held until about 1880, but is often used with a licence no less than when Ronsard wrote.[2]

Alexandrines in EnglishEdit

In accentual-syllabic verse like English, an Alexandrine is a line of iambic hexameter - a line of 6 iambs or iambic feet (each of which has 2 syllables, with an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable).[1] In English, lines of Alexandrines, with a midpoint caesura, are indistinguishable from lines of iambic trimeter or short meter.

Michael Drayton, who was 22 years old when Ronsard died, seemed to think that the Alexandrine might be as pleasing to English as it was to French ears, and in this meter he wrote a long poem in 24 books called the Polyolbion. The meter, however, failed to catch the English ear.[2] Drama in English often used alexandrines before Marlowe and Shakespeare, by whom it was supplanted by iambic pentameter (IP).[1]

IP, the 5-foot or 10-syllable line, is the principal English measure; and the Alexandrine is used only occasionally to give it variety and weight. In ordinary English heroic verse it is but rarely introduced; but in the narrative meter known as the Spenserian stanza, it comes in regularly as the concluding line of each stanza.[2]

Alexandrines also formed the 1st line of the couplet form Poulter's measure (the 2nd line being a fourteener) as exemplified in Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey's poem, Complaint of the Absence of her lover, being upon the sea (1547).[1]

In English usage, moreover, it is to be observed that there is no fixed rule as to the position of the caesura, although most commonly the pause occurs at the end of the 6th syllable. Spenser is very free in shifting the pause about.[2] Robert Bridges noted that in the lyrical sections of Samson Agonistes, Milton significantly varied the placement of the caesura;[1] and though the later poets who have used this stanza are not so free, yet, with the exception of Shenstone and of Byron, they do not scruple to obliterate all pause between the 6th and 7th syllables. Thus Thomson (Castle of Indolence, i. 42):—

And music lent new gladness to the morning air.[2]

In the 17th and 18th century, Heroic verse, written in couplets, is sometimes varied by the introduction of a triplet in which the 3rd line is an Alexandrine, as in this example from Dryden, which introduces a triplet after 2 couplets:

But satire needs not those, and wit will shine
Through the harsh cadence of a rugged line:
A noble error, and but seldom made,
When poets are by too much force betrayed.
Thy generous fruits, though gathered ere their prime,
Still showed a quickness; and maturing time
But mellows what we write to the dull sweets of rhyme.[1]

The danger in the use of the Alexandrine is that, in attempting to give dignity to his line, the poet may only produce heaviness, incurring the sneer of Pope—

A needless Alexandrine ends the song,
That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along.[2]

Less well known is Pope's other example, a few lines later, showing how an Alexandrines can be used to speed up a line as well:

Not so, when swift Camilla scours the Plain,
Flies o'er th'unbending corn and skims along the Main.[1]

Alesandrines in other coutriesEdit

The Alexandrine was the dominant meter in Dutch poetry from the 16th to the middle of the 19th century.[2]

The Alexandrine is common in the German poetry of the Baroque period.[1] At about the same time as its introduction to Holland it was accepted in Germany by the school of Opitz.[2] In the course of the 17th century, after being used without rhyme by Seckendorf and others, it formed a transitional station on the route to German blank verse, and has since then been rarely employed, except occasionally in rhymed comedy.[2]

In non-Anglo-Saxon or French contexts, the term dodecasyllable is often used.[1]


In popular cultureEdit

In the comic book Asterix and Cleopatra, the author inserted a pun about alexandrines: when the Druid Panoramix ("Getafix" in the English translation) meets his Alexandrian (Egyptian) friend the latter exclaims Je suis, mon cher ami, || très heureux de te voir at which Panoramix observes C'est un Alexandrin ("That's an alexandrine!" or "He's an Alexandrian!"). The pun can also be heard in the theatrical adaptations. The English translation renders this as "My dear old Getafix || How good to see you here", with the reply "Aha, an Alexandrine".[1]

See alsoEdit


  • PD-icon.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). "Alexandrine". Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 575. }}. Wikisource, Web, Mar. 23, 2018.


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Alexandrine, Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation. Web, Mar. 23, 2018.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 Britannica 1911, 1, 575.

External linksEdit