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Choriambic Verse

CHORIAMBIC VERSE, or Choriambics, the name given to Greek or Latin lyrical poetry in which the sound of the choriambus predominates. The choriambus is a verse-foot consisting of a trochee united with and preceding an iambus, -∪∪-. The choriambi are never used alone, but are usually preceded by a spondee and followed by an iambus. The line so formed is called an asclepiad, traditionally because it was invented by the Aeolian poet Asclepiades of Samos. Choriambic verse was first used by the poets of the Greek islands, and Sappho, in particular, produced magnificent effects with it. The measure, as used by the early Greeks, is essentially lyrical and impassioned. Mingled with other metres, it was constantly serviceable in choral writing, to which it was believed to give a stormy and mysterious character. The Greater Asclepiad was a term used for a line in which the wild music was prolonged by the introduction of a supplementary choriambus. This was much employed by Sappho and by Alcaeus, as well as in Alexandrian times by Callimachus and Theocritus. Among the Latins, Horace, in imitation of Alcaeus, made constant use of choriambic verse. Metrical experts distinguish six varieties of it in his Odes. This is an example of his greater asclepiad (Od. i. 11):


    - ∪∪- -∪ ∪-  -  ∪∪ -

Tu ne | quaesieris | scire nefas | quem mihi, quem | tibi

Finem | Di dederint | Leuconoë; | nee Babylon|ïos

Tentar|is numeros. | Ut melius | quicquid erit, | pati!

Seu plu|res hiemes, | seu tribuit | Jupiter ul|timam,

Quae nunc | oppositis | debilitat | pumicibus | mare


In later times of Rome, both Seneca and Prudentius wrote choriambic verse with a fair amount of success. Swinburne even introduced it into English poetry:—

Love, what | ailed them to leave | life that was made | lovely, we thought | with love?

What sweet | vision of sleep | lured thee away | down from the light | above?

Such lines as these make a brave attempt to resuscitate the measured sound of the greater asclepiad.

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