Not all poems have a regular beat to them, and most of the ones that do are iambic. Some are a rarer breed - trochaic, dactylic, or anapestic. Learn what makes anapestic lines different from the rest, and read several examples of anapestic poems.
Definition of Anapestic Meter
Poems that contain a regular rhythm are said to have meter. The unit of meter in a line of poetry is the foot. The most basic foot in English poetry is the iamb, a two-syllable foot that has one soft syllable followed by a loud one. Take a common word like 'depict.' It has two syllables; the first one is soft and the second is loud, or as we say in poetry terms, the first syllable is unstressed and the second one is stressed. If the poem follows the pattern unstressed/stressed, then the lines are iambic. For instance, Romeo famously says,
This line has five unstressed syllables, marked with the u symbol, each followed by a stressed syllable, marked with the slash / symbol. Five iambs in a line means this meter is iambic pentameter. Sometimes it helps to say a line of poetry aloud to hear which syllables are stressed and unstressed.
Anapests are a less common variety of metrical foot. The anapest has three syllables - unstressed, unstressed, stressed. It's like a long iamb. Comprehend? See, comprehend has three syllables and only the last one is loud. It's an anapest!
Examples of Anapestic Meter
Since anapestic meter has a rolling, galloping feel, the subject matter of many anapestic poems mirrors the rhythm. Take these lines from John Masefield's 'Sea Fever':
In the case of 'Sea Fever,' Masefield uses his anapests sparingly. His rhythm is iamb/iamb/anapest/iamb/anapest/iamb/anapest. This creates a rolling, slightly irregular rhythm, much like the aquatic subject of his poem.
In Byron's 'The Destruction of Sennacherib,' he uses an anapestic rhythm to reproduce the mighty army crashing down, wave-like, on their enemies:
One more memorable example, 'A Visit from St. Nicholas,' a poem we usually refer to by the first line:
The anapest is a three-syllable foot that follows the pattern unstressed/unstressed/stressed. An easier way to think of that is soft/soft/loud. The rolling pattern of the anapest's three syllables often suggests movement or building tension. The anapest is one metrical foot that poets can use to create a rhythm and affect the readers of their poems.
- Meter: a characteristic of poems that contain a regular rhythm
- Foot: the unit of meter in a line of poetry
- Iamb: a two-syllable foot that has one soft syllable followed by a loud one
- Iambic pentameter: a meter that has five iambs in a line of poetry
- Anapest: a three-syllable foot that follows the pattern unstressed/unstressed/stressed
Note the rolling, slightly irregular rhythm of this poem. This is what anapestic meter sounds like.
Discovery of this lesson on the anapest will enable you to:
- Define anapestic meter
- Provide examples of anapestic meter in poetry