alexandrine (ălˌĭgzănˈdrēnˌ, –drĪnˌ) [key], in prosody, a line of 12 syllables (or 13 if the last syllable is unstressed). Its name probably derives from the fact that some poems of the 12th and 13th cent. about Alexander the Great were written in this meter. In French, rhyming couplets of two alexandrines of equal length, usually containing four accents, have been the classic poetic form since the time of Ronsard, e.g., in the dramas of Racine and Corneille. In English an iambic hexameter line is often called an alexandrine. The most notable example is found in the Spenserian stanza, which contains eight iambic pentameters and an alexandrine rhyming with the last pentameter. Pope's "Essay on Criticism" contains what is probably the most quoted alexandrine in English literature:
A needless alexandrine ends the song
That like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.