What Is Anapest?
An anapest is a unit of poetic meter formed when two unstressed syllable precede a stressed one. Common anapestic phrases are as follows:
- Get a life.
- At the drop of a hat
Unlike a unit of iambic meter, which contains two syllables, an anapest has three. It is the inverse of a dactyl, which begins with a stressed syllable and has two unstressed beats after it. Of the main metrical patterns — the others are iambs, trochees, dactyls, and spondees — anapests are the least common in the English language, perhaps because the sound produced by this meter has a nursery rhyme sound that is unsuitable for serious poetry.
In fact, Dr. Seuss, the children’s book writer, often used anapestic meter, as this example illustrates:
Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!
There are points to be scored. There are games to be won.
And the magical things you can do with that ball
Will make you the winning-est winner of all.
Examples of Anapest
1. “I must finish my journey alone.” This line of anapestic trimeter is from William Cowper’s “Verses Supposed to Be Written by Alexander Selkirk.”
2. “Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house/Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”
3. “There once was a man from Nantucket. . . .” Most limericks are written in anapestic meter.
4. You have brains in your head./You have feet in your shoes.” — Dr. Seuss, writing in anapestic trimeter.
5. George Gordon Byron’s “The Destruction of Sennacherib” is written entirely in anapestic tetrameter.
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