For other uses, see Pyrrhic (disambiguation).
Metrical feet
˘ ˘ pyrrhus, dibrach
˘ ¯ iamb
¯ ˘ trochee, choree
¯ ¯ spondee
˘ ˘ ˘ tribrach
¯ ˘ ˘ dactyl
˘ ¯ ˘ amphibrach
˘ ˘ ¯ anapaest, antidactylus
˘ ¯ ¯ bacchius
¯ ¯ ˘ antibacchius
¯ ˘ ¯ cretic, amphimacer
¯ ¯ ¯ molossus

A pyrrhic (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.

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] 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. Harry Rusche, A Handbook of Terms for Discussing Poetry, Emory University Department of English Last accessed 20 December 2006
  2. "Rhythm, Meter, and Scansion Made Easy," Riverdale School, Last accessed 20 December 2006
  3. Poe, "The Rationale of Verse"
  4. Thomas J. Mathiesen. "Pyrrhic". In L. Root, Deane. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. (subscription required)

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