Poetry nonsense no. 1 – the double dactyl

As the summer season silliness sets in we would like to share some examples of various forms of nonsense poetry, beginning with the “double dactyl”.
A dactyl on its own is a metrical pattern made up of one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed ones ( ¯ ˘ ˘). The pattern can be seen in words such as celebrate, or symphony. “Double dactyl” poetry is based on pairs of these such as the following (from Charles McDauel’s “Birthday Double Dactyl”🙂

Now on this special day
everyone celebrates

Just like the much more common limerick form of nonsense verse the double dactyl is used for word games and for comedy, but it’s much harder to write. Traditionally the poems consisted of two verses each containing three lines of double dactyl followed by a single choriamb ( ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ).

( ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ ˘ ),
( ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ ˘ ),
( ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ ˘ ),
( ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ).

Not easy. But luckily there many examples on the fabulous Poetry Soup website, such as David Siegel’s tribute to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony:

Ludwig von Beethoven
sat in his music room,
sucking his thumb.

Heavens to Murgatroyd!
After four symphonies
more could be asked of me?
Da Da Da-Dum

And this tribute by Jaap van den Born to England’s greatest novelist Charles Dickens on his 200th birthday:

Chuzzlewit Chuzzlewit
Nicholas Nickleby
Pickwick, Scrooge, Dombey
And more of their kind.

Two hundred years, filled with
Real, just like you:
It is all in the mind

See Poetry Soup for poems of all kinds including more double dactyls.

If you would like to add more examples in the comments section below please do. Feel free to vary the form as you wish, just as Oladele Olaide has done in the poem “Quest”;

In the heart of the rock
In the depth of the sea
In the room with the lock
At the end of the lea
Is the key to the gate
To the room of your gold
And the knob to your fate-
An event to behold!


About The Henry Brothers

We are English teachers involved in ELT publishing in Turkey, and also touring the country giving workshops and presentations to English teachers, mainly on the use of poetry, storytelling and other lively activities in the classroom. We can be contacted by e-mail to canmoorcroft@gmail.com or paul.zarraga@gmail.com
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One Response to Poetry nonsense no. 1 – the double dactyl

  1. Gökhan says:

    They sound very musical as being funny at the same time. I like the caricaturization of the iconic figures as well.

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