Double Dactyls

Selected by Alex Chaffee


6 February, 2003 - a dactyl sighting by no less an author than Neil Gaiman

20 January, 2003 - D. Mesher is teaching Double Dactyls in his Humanities course at San Jose State University. His students have contributed many Greco-Roman poems!

7 February, 2002 - Jan D. Hodge has dactylized Shakespeare, Napoleon, and Jack Sprat!

11 January, 2002 - Some XML-compliant double-dactyls by John Cowan

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A dactyl, as you may know, is a poetic foot of the form >-- (ON-off-off). For example, interstate, realize, microphone, cereal, limerick, etc. etc. A double dactyl, naturally enough, is two dactyls in a row.

A double dactyl is also a poem, a form invented by Anthony Hecht and Paul Pascal. Quite like a limerick, it has a rigid (if peculiar) structure. Two stanzas, each comprising three lines of dactylic dimeter followed by a line with a dactyl and a single accent. The two stanzas have to rhyme on their last line. The first line of the first stanza is repetitive nonsense. The second line of the first stanza is somebody's name -- strictly speaking, a proper noun. Note that this name must itself be double-dactylic. E.g. Gloria Vanderbilt, Jesus of Nazareth, Gilbert and Sullivan, Archangel Gabriel. In the second stanza, one entire line must be a double-dactylic word. E.g. biopsychology, geopolitical, gastrointestinal, abecedarian, etc. etc. There are a few more rules but here's an example, based on the inventor of microscopy, Anton Von Leewenhoek (whose surname is pronounced "LAY-ven-hook").

Small Problem

Higgamus Hoggamus
"Anton Von Leewenhoek
Has a small problem," con-
Fided his wife.

Doesn't disturb me; his
Blighting my life!"

Theodore L. Drachman

This actually goes above and beyond the call of double dactylic duty; note that he uses two dd's in the second stanza when all he really needed was one. Note also that, like a limerick, it should be clever -- there should be a punchline. And it should, of course, have something to do with its subject.

The definitive double dactyl reference is Jiggery-Pokery: A Compendium of Double Dactyls, Anthony Hecht and John Hollander eds., Athenaeum New York, 1967. Some of the following poems are lifted without permission from that book.

In the introduction to Jiggery Pokery, pp. 14-22, the story of the invention of the form is told in full. Janet Pascal writes:

[T]he inventors are Anthony Hecht and Paul Pascal (my father) with a little help from Naomi Pascal (my mother). The form arose when the two of them were resident at the American Academy in Rome, and my father pointed out that *schistosomiasis*, being dactylic, did not work as a line in an otherwise iambic poem. - Janet B. Pascal

To this I can add that my uncle always told me that schistosomiasis was a fatal disease for which there is only one cure, which is also fatal.

Here's a great self-referential example of the form by Roger L. Robison:


Long-short-short, long-short-short
Dactyls in dimeter,
Verse form with choriambs
(Masculine rhyme):
One sentence (two stanzas)
Challenges poets who
Don't have the time.

Other Double Dactyls:

If you find or, God forbid, compose any new double-dactyls, please let me know.

Acts of God

Hallelu, Ballyhoo
Jesus of Nazareth
Said to the semi-
Diaphanous Ghost:

"Holy, your gig needs more
Check out the act of the
Heavenly Host."


Designer Genes

a Study in Sterotypical Steatopygia

Jiggery Pokery
Gloria Vanderbilt,
Waspiest wasp, says, "Black
People I love.

"I've designed jeans that the
Gluteus maximus
Fits like a glove."


The Russian Soul #2

Higgeldy, piggeldy,
Anna Karenina
Went off her feed and just
Couldn't relax.

Then, quite ignoring the
Threw in the sponge and was
Scraped off the tracks.

John Hollander

Historical Reflections

Higgeldy, piggeldy,
Benjamin Harrison
23rd president
Was, and as such,

Served between Clevelands and,
Save for this trivial
Didn't do much.


Twilight's Last Gleaming

Higgeldy piggeldy,
President Jefferson
Gave up the ghost on the
Fourth of July.

So did John Adams, which
Shows that such patriots
Know how to die.


Paradise Lost Book 5: An Epitome

Higgledy piggeldy
Archangel Rafael,
Speaking of Satan's re-
Bellion from God:

"Chap was decidedly
Given to lewdness and

Anthony Hecht


"Patty cake, patty cake,
Marcus Antonius,
What do you think of the
African queen?"

Duties require my
Presence in Egypt. Ya
Know what I mean?"

Paul Pascal

Finn Again

Ibbety bibbety
Anna L. Plurabelle
rivering seaward par
swerve and per bend,

lapsed, till rejoyceaments
mythed her and founded her,
words without end.

Irma Brandeis

Above All That?

Higgeldy piggeldly
Mary of Magdela
Said to the dolorous
Mother of God:

I for one left to the
Simple amoeba or

James Merrill

Higgelty Piggelty
Rodya Raskalnikov
Belted two dames with a
Broad-bladed ax.

"I am the wictim(*) of
"Beaten," said he,"By re-
"Legion and sax."
Anthony Hecht

(*) Dialectologists will no doubt be offended by this, as no Russian-speaker would ever so distort the voiced labial fricative, "V;" however, it must be remembered that the the dialect here spoken is Standard Middle Hollywood Central European.

[Author's footnote.]

Divide and Rule

(circa 1992)

Havelly pavelly,
Federal president
Finally quit.

Now they'll be joining the
Global community,
Lickety split.

Alex Chaffee

Here's another by me. I wrote it a few days after the arrest. If you prefer, you can start it, "Higgeldy piggeldy, Unabom Theodore".

Dysfunctional Society

Unabom Unabomb
Teddy the terrorist            (or, "Unabom Theodore")
Cut himself off from his
Country and kin.

Now he's the star of the
National media:
Kin turned him in.

Alex Chaffee

(for another of my attempts at dactylry, see The Blind Date From Hell)

Hysterical Markers

Higgledy, piggledy,
First Lady Hillary,
Walking by doorways in
Neighborhoods near,

Noted a curious
Plaques reading "President
Clinton slept here."

(for more of Cybergeezer's dactyls, click here)

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Last modified: Thu Feb 06 16:59:31 Pacific Standard Time 2003
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