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The Anapest

Reference > Literature > Poetry > The Bard
 

You've already learned about metrical feet and iambs, so now it's time to learn about another popular metrical foot: the anapest.

Before we dive into explaining what an anapest is, I want you to hear some anapestic, so you can get a feel for what a nice galloping rhythm it has. Here's an excerpt from an anapestic poem that you've probably heard many times. (Though probably no one ever told you it was anapestic!)
 

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.



So now that you know what anapestic poetry sounds like (don't you like that rhythm?), let's talk about what an anapest is.
 

An anapest is a combination of three syllables, in which the first two syllables are unstressed, and the third syllable is stressed.


As you can see, this is very different from an iamb, and poetry that's written with anapests will sound very different than poems written with iambs.

Although there are lots of English words which are iambs (about, become, restore, etc), there aren't a lot of words that are anapests. This is because it is most common for stressed and unstressed to alternate within a word. So anapestic poetry is mostly formed by combining words to make anapests. Take another look at our Christmas poem:

  • 'twas the night - 'twas the NIGHT
  • before Christ - be fore CHRIST
  • mas and all - mas and ALL
  • through the house - through the HOUSE

You see how all those words fit together to form the galloping rhythm of the anapest? Notice that the word "Christmas" starts is split up between two anapests: "Christ" is the stressed syllable of the second anapest, and "mas" is the first unstressed syllable of the third anapest.

Iambic vs Anapestic

Sometimes how a word is stressed depends on the context where it appears. For example, the word "emphasize" can be used both iambically and anapestically:

  • Iambic - I hope to emphasize the truth I see.
  • Anapestic - Will you emphasize truth when you see it appear?

The first line is perfectly iambic, and the second is perfectly anapestic. In the first, emphasize is pronounced with two stressed syllables, but in the second, it's pronounced with only one.
 

Common Usage

I've referred to anapestic poetry as having a "galloping" rhythm, and a lot of poets feel that this metrical foot lends itself very well to comic poetry. Dr. Seuss, Edward Lear, and other comic poets have put this meter to good use in some very funny poems.

A lot of people don't like writing anapestic poetry because you have to arrange things very carefully to work around the fact that you won't find many anapestic words. Me? I love writing anapestic poetry. I think it's a fun challenge, and the result is usually entertaining.

Questions

1.
How is an anapest different from an iamb?
2.
Why aren't there many English words that are anapests?
3.
What kind of poems often use anapests?
4.
Write the following as a series of stressed and unstressed syllables: "There's a dog in my yard, and he likes to be heard.
5.
Write the following as a series of stressed and unstressed syllables: "I will promise instead to be happily wed."
6.
Challenge: Can you write an entire sentence that is completely anapestic?
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Metrical Feet and the IambMetrical Feet and the Iamb
More Metrical FeetMore Metrical Feet
 

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