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What is the meaning of pyrrhic?

The meaning of pyrrhic is a metrical foot consisting of two unstressed syllables.


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Last Updated May 26, 2023.

A pyrrhic, or dibrach, is a metrical foot consisting of two short or unstressed syllables. 


Pyrrhic derives from the Greek word pyrrhichē, a Greek war dance performed to a song of the same meter. The dance allegedly takes its name from Purrhikhos, who invented the dance. 


For example, The final line of the sixth stanza of Andrew Marvell’s “The Garden” (included below) is written in pyrrhic meter:


Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less, 

Withdraws into its happiness; 

The mind, that ocean where each kind 

Does straight its own resemblance find, 

Yet it creates, transcending these, 

Far other worlds, and other seas; 

Annihilating all that’s made 

To a green thought in a green shade.

In the last line, the last two feet consist of unstressed syllables (pyrrhic) followed by stressed syllables (trochee). This creates a softer, more subdued rhythm than the rest of the line, which predominantly consists of trochees.

The use of pyrrhic meter in this line helps convey a sense of tranquility and subtlety. It adds a touch of delicate beauty and enhances the overall musicality and imagery of the poem. The soft, unstressed syllables emphasize the gentle nature of the "green thought" and the serene atmosphere of the "green shade."

Andrew Marvell's skillful use of metrical variations, including the pyrrhic meter, contributes to the rhythmic complexity and artistic richness of "The Garden."


see: poetry

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