Dactylic Hexameter

I made the mistake of telling the kids that their recent literature assignment might be more difficult than anything of the sort that I had to do in school. That gave them an opening to insist that it was impossible, and challenge me to prove that it wasn’t by doing it myself. Oops.

The assignment was to write a 25-line poem in dactylic hexameter, the verse-form the Iliad was written in. “Dactylic” means the rhythm uses sets of three syllables with the first one stressed, so it goes DA-da-da-DA-da-da, like a waltz. “Hexameter” means there are six of those DA-da-da sets in each line, though Homer apparently cheated a little and ended some lines a syllable or three early. Fortunately, it doesn’t also have to rhyme.

So I threw one together to show them it could be done. Since it’s only the second or third poem that I’ve ever written of my own free will, I thought I might as well put it up here for posterity. I don’t think it’s too bad, for 9th grade work. I cheat a little in spots (is “girl” one syllable or two? Here it’s both!) but not too much. I’m especially proud of the fact that I worked a Homeric simile into it.

So if you have a Kolbe Greek Literature student who thinks this assignment is too hard, feel free to show him this as proof that it can be done. If you are a Kolbe Greek Literature student and you decide to steal this, let me know what kind of grade you get.

boy and a girl ran swiftly and lightly like deer through the heather; stars
twinkled above, ancient lights in the distance, each marking their footsteps; like
water o'er rocks in a swift-rushing stream when the spring rains come falling,
babbling and bubbling along in the sunlight with fishes below, so the
boy and the girl ran freely there chasing and chased without care. At a
hilltop at dawn a sight caught their attention: a cloud with a sinister
look was on-rushing toward them from peaks in the misty horizon. We
must get to shelter, they said to each other, so there we'll be safe. But their
chasing and fleeing and laughing had taken them far from their homes. As the
cloud came 'ere nearer they saw cloaked beneath it dire creatures of lore marching
swiftly and steadily forward toward them equipped as for war.

Above the cloud fearsome and giant beasts glided in circles a-shrieking. A
coldness came over the boy and the girl as they stood and considered their
doom that approached them too massive and wide to be fled or avoided. The
boy held the girl, wanting only to save them but offering comfort. They
prayed as she trembled against him but stood on that hill with him bravely. Then
off in the distance a horn they heard sounding -- the horn of a hero. It
blared two more times, then through mists came descending great steeds breathing fire. On their
backs they bore warriors all armored in light like the stars only more. Their
swords as they drew them forth thundered like lightning with strikes from the heavens.

Onward and downward they plunged t'ward the darkness, their battle cry shaking the earth. The
boy and the girl stood watching the fight as the warriors of light charged in,
prayers on their lips for the vict'ry of light as they witnessed the struggle. A
long time the forces of light and the cloud met and clashed in that place but the
boy and the girl heard the horn sound again as the cloud's troops retreated; the
sun reemerged as the warriors of light swept back into the sky. As they
passed out of sight through a gleam in the sunlight the last turned a moment;
before he departed the boy and the girl heard this call: "Thanks for helping."