A pyrrhic (/ˈpɪrɪk/; Greek: πυρρίχιος pyrrichios, from πυρρίχη pyrrichē) is a metrical foot used in formal poetry. It consists of two unaccented, short syllables.[1] It is also known as a dibrach.

Metrical feet and accents
˘ ˘pyrrhic, dibrach
˘ ¯iamb
¯ ˘trochee, choree
¯ ¯spondee
˘ ˘ ˘tribrach
¯ ˘ ˘dactyl
˘ ¯ ˘amphibrach
˘ ˘ ¯anapaest, antidactylus
˘ ¯ ¯bacchius
¯ ¯ ˘antibacchius
¯ ˘ ¯cretic, amphimacer
¯ ¯ ¯molossus

Poetic use in English

Tennyson used pyrrhics and spondees quite frequently, for example, in In Memoriam:

When the blood creeps and the nerves prick.

"When the" and "and the" in the second line may be considered as pyrrhics (also analyzable as ionic meter).

Pyrrhics alone are not used to construct an entire poem due to the monotonous effect.[2] Edgar Allan Poe observed that many experts rejected it from English metrics and concurred:

The pyrrhic is rightfully dismissed. Its existence in either ancient or modern rhythm is purely chimerical, and the insisting on so perplexing a nonentity as a foot of two short syllables, affords, perhaps, the best evidence of the gross irrationality and subservience to authority which characterise our Prosody.[3]

War dance

By extension, this rhythmic pattern apparently formed the basis of an identically named ancient Greek war dance. Proclus thought it was the same as the hyporcheme (hyporchēma), while Athenaeus distinguished them; this may have depended on whether song accompanied the dance. Citing Aristoxenus, Athenaeus said the pyrrhic is a Spartan dance for boys carrying spears to prepare for war, and noted the intense speed of the dance. In Plato's Laws, the dance is described as representing the offensive and defensive movements in battle. Other Greeks associated it with Dionysus.[4]


  1. Rusche, Harry. A Handbook of Terms for Discussing Poetry. Emory University Department of English. Retrieved 20 December 2006.
  2. "Rhythm, Meter, and Scansion Made Easy". Riverdale School. Archived from the original on 2006-12-31. Retrieved 2006-12-20. Last accessed 20 December 2006
  3. Poe, Edgar Allen. "The Rationale of Verse". Tales, Sketches and Selected Criticism. Archived from the original on 2013-10-30.
  4. Mathiesen, Thomas J. "Pyrrhic". In Deane L. Root (ed.). Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. (subscription required)

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