In Brief

Listening to the sound his feet are making ("Crush, crack, crick, crick"), the poet in Stephen recalls a familiar fragment of verse and thinks, "Rhythm begins, you see. I hear. A catalectic tetrameter of iambs marching." Derived from a Greek word meaning "incomplete," a catalectic line of verse is one missing a syllable from the expected structure, in this case iambic tetrameter (dee DUM dee DUM dee DUM dee DUM).

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The omission usually occurs at the end of a line, but if "Won't you come to Sandymount" (DUM dee DUM dee DUM dee DUM) is scanned as iambic tetrameter the syllable is missing from the beginning—as if chopped from "O, won't you come to Sandymount." As Stephen continues to brood on the fragment of verse, he chops yet another syllable off the beginning of the second line, to sound out two perfect iambs: "deline the mare."

Stephen's line could be scanned as trochaic tetrameter (DUM dee DUM dee DUM dee DUM dee), in which case the truncated foot would come at the end. In the Keats poem reproduced here, the first and last lines are catalectic trochaic tetrameter, with the missing final syllable marked by a caret. (The second and fifth lines are regular, or "acatalectic," iambic tetrameter, and the middle lines are regular trochaic tetrameter.) "Give me women, wine, and snuff" sounds metrically indistinguishable from "Won't you come to Sandymount," so perhaps Stephen should be thinking of a catalectic tetrameter of trochees marching. But if Keats' second line were truncated to read "Till I cry out, 'Hold, enough!'," that iambic line would suddenly become catalectic, and sound much the same as the first and sixth. The difference is academic, then—best left to professional prosodists with too much time on their hands.

One thing that the line is certainly not, however, is acatalectic. The 1984 edition of Ulysses by Hans Walter Gabler contains some strange reversals of past editorial practice, one of the most bizarre and indefensible of which is the alteration of "A catalectic" to "Acatalectic." Joyce's handwriting in the Rosenbach manuscript might or might not be read as containing a space, but neither the first edition nor any of the corrected texts in the 1930s inserted one. And while prosodists might argue about whether the lines Stephen quotes are catalectic iambic or catalectic trochaic verse, in no rational universe could they ever be called acatalectic, i.e. metrically regular.

JH 2013
Scansion of Stephen's lines using slashes for stressed syllables and lower-case x for unstressed, and two added syllables that could make the first line either catalectic iambic tetrameter or catalectic trochaic tetrameter. Source: John Hunt.
Timothy Steele's scansion of a poem by John Keats, using the same marks for stressed and unstressed syllables and carets for syllables omitted in catalectic lines. Source: