line is a metrically
incomplete line of verse, lacking a syllable at the end or ending with an incomplete foot
Making a meter cataletic can drastically change the feeling of the poem, and is often used to achieve a certain effect.
Compare this selection from Book III of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Song of Hiawatha" with that from W. H. Auden's "Lay Your Sleeping Head, My Love". The first is in trochaic tetrameter, and the second in trochaic tetrameter catalectic.
- By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
- By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
- Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
- Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
- Dark behind it rose the forest,
- Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
- Rose the firs with cones upon them;
- Bright before it beat the water,
- Beat the clear and sunny water,
--H. W. Longfellow
- Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.
- Lay your sleeping head, my love,
- Human on my faithless arm;
- Time and fevers burn away
- Individual beauty from
- Thoughtful children, and the grave
- Proves the child ephemeral:
- But in my arms till break of day
- Let the living creature lie,
- Mortal, guilty, but to me
--W. H. Auden
- The entirely beautiful.
Catalexis can also apply to headlessness, where the unstressed syllable is dropped from the beginning of the line.
A line missing two syllables is called brachycatalectic.
. "An Introduction to English Poetry". New York
: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2002
. ISBN 0-374-52889-6
Harmon, William. "A Handbook to Literature". Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2005. ISBN 0-13-134442-0