Hiawatha and the Earwig: Rediscovering a Metre

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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s use of unrhymed trochaic tetrameter in his epic poem The Song of Hiawatha created a brief vogue for the form, inspiring both imitations and parodies. The book-length poem The Insect Hunters by the entomologist Edward Newman is one such imitation. The comparative facility and inflexibility of the metre led to its demise,  though Philip Larkin’s ‘The Explosion’, together with some passages of Hiawatha itself, show that it is capable of sustaining effective poetry. Inspired by the Newman and Larkin poems, I have written my own poem in trochaic tetrameter, ‘A Charm for Earwigs’. I argue that, in an age when free verse is losing its power and iambic pentameter no longer seems viable, this unfashionable metre offers a possible medium for contemporary poetry.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)164-174
Number of pages11
JournalNew Writing
Issue number2
Early online date14 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - 02 Apr 2020


  • poetry
  • creative writing
  • prosody
  • Newman, Edward (1801–1876)
  • craft
  • Larkin, Philip (1922–1985)
  • trochaic tetrameter
  • Poetry
  • Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth (1807–1882)


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