27 jul
2017

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Double dactyls, also known as higgledy-piggledies or jigery-pokeries, are biographical poems consisting of two four-line stanzas. Each of the first three lines of each stanza contains six syllables with the first and fourth accented (DA-da-da DA-da-da). The last line of each stanza contains four syllables, also stressing the first and fourth.

The opening line calls out nonsense syllables (traditionally “Higgledy-piggledy” though I and most others prefer to buck this trend and be a bit more creative). The individual's name follows in the second. Also, in general, either the first, second or third line of the second stanza consists of a single word. Only the fourth and eighth lines need to rhyme. Additional rhyming, word-splits wrapping onto the next line and so forth are welcome bonuses if you can manage them.

Hippo-by-potamus
Heliogabalus
Worshiped a bolide and
Married five wives.

Bawdy proclivities,
Hyperactivities,
Prompted his courtiers to
Vent him with knives.

Pipoulos-popoulos
Theotokopoulos
Known as El Greco, a
Painterly dude.

Armchair historians,
Demi-folklorians,
Took as a given his
Vision was skewed.

Flibberty-gibberty
Ditters von Dittersdorf
Gentleman, scholar, com-
Poser of note.

Mortal, he lived merely
Sexages-IM-ally.
Lifeless, no further so-
Natas he wrote.


© Peter Blinn

Notes

Heliogabalus, also known as Elagabalus, was born Varius Avitus Bassianus and became Roman emperor in 218 C.E. He led the worship of a sun god in the form of a conical black meteorite that he brought to Rome in a ceremony illustrated on the backs of some of his coins. His anything-goes personal debaucheries rivaled even those of Caligula and Commodus (according to the Augustan Histories, nowadays taken cum grano salis) and he was eventually murdered, along with his mother, in 222.

Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739-1799), a contemporary of Haydn and Mozart, wrote over 120 symphonies. [The adverb “sexagesimally” means “in a manner pertaining to the number sixty” though I had to cheat a bit and stress the fourth syllable to make it fit.]

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