In dactylic hexameter

Turgid the sea as it billows and foams in the face of the tempest.
Wind-lifted wave-crests explode into diamonds agleam in the sunlight.
Surf-spray erupts atop surge-curled water descending in free fall
Sweeping the beach leaving smooth-glistened sand in the wake of its ebbing

Lonely I stand with my back to the shore and my face to the ocean
Turgid my soul as the tide sucks the sand out from under my bare feet
Broken I bow to the baptismal mist which embraces my sorrow
Tears wicked away by the bone-chilling blast of the winter storm’s fury

Weary I rise with a whispered farewell to the one who once loved me
Grief undenied yet consoled by the pow’r of the tempest’s caresses
Slowly I turn with the incessant roar of the sea now behind me.
Walking the beach-path that leads to our home where my family awaits me.


James A. Tweedie is a recently retired pastor living in Long Beach, Washington. He likes to walk on the beach with his wife. He has written and self-published four novels and a collection of short stories. He has several hundred unpublished poems tucked away in drawers. 

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12 Responses

  1. J. Simon Harris

    A well done poem in a very difficult meter. The imagery is strong, and matches the sentiment. I also like the subtle internal rhymes throughout.

  2. Amy Foreman

    What an interesting meter, James. I don’t think I’ve ever read a poem quite like this one. What I love is that the triple meter keeps the words rolling . . . rolling . . . like the waves of the ocean. It is such a complete, perfect picture when a poem’s meter enhances and gives body to its words, so that reading it aloud becomes a musical experience. You have managed this technique very well here! Bravo.

  3. David Gosselin

    Hi James, very interesting. There are plenty of things I’d like to say about the poem, but for now I’ll content myself with saying that by writing something like this, you are showing how despite all the limitations English has compared to something like Italian, Arabic or Ancient Greek, you were still able to bend the English language and produce a very musical poem. I’d invite you to submit it to my website if you’re interested, since it is a singular piece and unique demonstration of what can be done with the language. You can reach me through the submission page there.



  4. Dave Whippman

    It’s difficult to write English verse in a metre not designed for the language. You manage it well.

  5. James A. Tweedie

    My thanks to each of you for your kind words. This site has opened my eyes to poetic forms that had previously been outside my creative vocabulary. I find it fascinating to observe on these pages how time-tested metrical rhythms and metrical patterns–often evolved from languages and cultures far removed from our own–are still capable of elevating language to extraordinary heights of inspired beauty and truth.

  6. Lew Icarus Bede

    1. First off, for me is a relief to not be reading iambic pentametres…again; though I must admit Mr. Tweedie’s iambic pentametres are among the best @SCP, and I actually enjoy reading his; occasionally, they are actually inspiring; they have a rare purity of free-flowing feeling.

    2. His understated title is reminiscent of 19th century Realist titles, like those of Stephen Crane and Ambrose Bierce, or or those of 20th century Modernists, like Countee Cullen or Ernest Hemingway. I like that.

    3. “Turgid,” the opening word of “A Grief Observed,” is a perfect term to describe these “dactylic hexameters,” especially as the word is used twice in the poem, meaning, I imagine, “swollen and distended,” suggesting the narrator’s state. I do hope that was intentional on the part of the author, lading his lines with adjective clusters, and punctuation that is sporadic and unclear. The latter I don’t appreciate as much as some do, as being one of those flaws Modernist writers, like T. S. Eliot, indulged in.

    4. Although this is not on a par with classical dactyls, nor obviously is it as expansive as Longefellow’s “Evangeline,” still I think Mr. Tweedie’s dactyls compare favorably with Longfellow’s; in fact, dare I say it, I think Mr. Tweedie’s hexameters are more refined than Longfellow’s.

    5. I like his sixth-foot spondees; although it does reveal the difficulties of movement through a poem with an accentual hexametre. One looks in vain for satisfying continuations and resolutions in that structure, a bugbear of Longfellow’s and others who have used it.

    6. I admire the Anglo-Saxon diction and the Shakespearean hyphenated terms in the opening stanza.

    7. Except for the punctuation (I am so 18th-century at times), the second stanza is remarkable on many levels:
    a. the opening stressed word;
    b. the phrase, “Lonely I stand…”;
    c. the simple, yet impressive, “my back to the shore and my face to the ocean”;
    d. repetition of “turgid”;
    e. the concrete descriptive “as the tide sucks the sand out from under my bare feet”;
    f. the repeated patterned cadence, “Broken I bow”;
    g. the alliteration of the b’s in line three, along with “back,” ;
    h. the exceptional “baptismal mist”;
    i. the striking use of the verb “wicked,” which may be the best use of that word in our language, a mark of poetic talent;

    8. Stanza three, like stanza two, bothers me with its punctuation; but then I’m one of those obnoxious poets who doesn’t like only capitals at the beginnings of lines either; so, of course, it goes without saying, you can take what I say with a grain of salt, as my preference for “power” without an apostrophe would be followed by the Shakespearean “o’ th'” and placing an apostrophe in “fam’ly” for your metre. [I did find it fascinating how oft Mr. Sathayanarayana used dactylic adjectives in his iambics.] Stanza three also begins with a pronounced alliteration of the “w”: “weary,” “with,” “whispered farewell,” “one,” and “once.” The rhythm is certainly more wave-like (as Ms. Foreman perceived) than iambic pentametres.

    9. “A Grief Observed” fits neatly in the Romantic tradition with its self-dramatization, as, for example, the repetition of “me” in stanza three. Of several SCP critics, Mr. Harris accurately notes that the imagery matches the sentiment. I would say it is breathtaking, almost Byronic.

    10. Finally just for your observation, here is a different take on dactylic hexametres:

    Pink Evening Primrose
    by Ileac Burweeds

    Pink evening primrose blossoming, feathery, petal-opened,
    at dusk in northern Texas, flowers i’ the coolness.
    All night it’s contènt; it has a fragile eye of yellow-white;
    there rustling, wiggling i’ the breezes, airy-fresh, hidden, unknown.

    At morning, one sees them along the path or the carriageway;
    they stand in clusters, or lone, not aromatic or sweet,
    however, oh, so beautiful and blooming, as if of love;
    diaphanous, they die, withering each day’s generation,

    yet are replaced by the very stem’s conical whorls,
    that turn into new flowers, longing to spin i’ the air,
    pink ladies, showy, speciosa, dresses in a swirl,
    returning, drought-resistent, invasive as a weed.

  7. James A. Tweedie

    Thank you, O Venerable Bede, for your thoughtful, insightful and affirming comments. I enjoyed noting the contrasts between our poems; contrasts which prove that even within significant structural constraints there is a great deal of room for the creative muse to speak through a variety of voices each using a unique style. People who say that classical poetic forms (with fixed meter and rhyme) restrict their freedom to express themselves have no idea what they are talking about.

    In my defense I might add that my elide of “pow’r” is at least as “Shakespearean” as “o’ the'” and perhaps even more so. I offer the third line of Sonnet 29 as evidence: “And trouble deaf heav’n with my bootless cries . . .” Even so, I agree that writing the word out in full would not have made much of a difference.

  8. Damian Robin

    Your lines start with a stress and roll on till the spray to cast off with an unstressed ending

    Starting with stresses that roll into spray at the waited-for endings
    Strengthening sinews that lift the poem’s weight to the means of the turning
    Rhymelessly splendid consistently onward to meet one more foreground
    Dropping again to a stoney tale found in solemnity’s rounding

    It’s great to be able to learn by copying – and by researching: on wikipedea for ‘dactylic hexameter’ : where I’m told
    “Some premier examples of its use are Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. “
    Though there they’re complicated with sponees and complex rules and exceptions.

  9. Lew Icarus Bede

    Mr. Robin’s accentual dactylic hexametres show both the excellent and annoying qualities of that verse in English.

    1. There is no relief from such dactyls.

    2. Verbals are constantly replaced by verbs.

    3. What goes for dactyl in one person’s mind does not go for dactyl in another’s.

    4. Dactyls are regularly more monotonous than iambs.

    5. What I was trying to do—which no one in the World in my lifetime will accept—was to assign vowel lengths in the dodeca I offered Mr. Tweedie.

    6. The reason why I say no one will accept that is because it is not visual, it is aural; and my language is ideogrammatic. I don’t mind it never being accepted. As Emerson wrote, “Is it that bad to be misunderstood?”

    7. Take one example, the last line of the “Iliad”:

    ὣς οἵ γ᾽ ἀμφίεπον τάφον Ἕκτορος ἱπποδάμοιο.

    Transliterarated by “Crude” Abe Lewis, with Italian vowels, it might go like this:

    hos hoi / gam phi e / pon // tap hon / Hec to ros / hip po da / moi o.

    Notice the first foot is a spondee, the elision, and the remarkable alliteration of “h,” which I consider a vowel. The musicality of so many of the lines (and this is only part of a “sentence”) is nothing short of breathtaking, the neat linguistic ties, the vowel-precious words, etc.

    Translated by “Crude” Abe Lewis, the meaning might go something like this:

    Thus they held the bustling funeral of Hector the horse-tamer.

    Notice this is our language: amphi—around, about; taphon—funeral (like epi-taph); Hector; hippo—horse; damoio—domesticate.

    8. In reading Latin and Greek, one learns one’s own language, English.

    9. And it is important to remember, that although some individuals may know the language better than others, the language—English—is so huge, no one person can understand very much of it at all. In short, when one is studying a language (and there are so many of them), one can never master all aspects of even just one language, especially modern languages with millions of speakers. However, that is what is exciting about knowledge; there will always be something to learn as long as one is alive.

    10. Finally, how could not the Romans, when they became as powerful as they were, not help but see the brilliance of Greek literature? if they could not match it, at least they could honour it.


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