What Is Anapest?

Jim B.

An anapest is a term used in poetry to describe a word or series of words which features two short, unstressed syllables followed by one long, stressed syllable. These three syllables make up one of the feet that comprise the rhythm of any poem. One example of anapest is the English word "underneath," which contains two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable. The poetic technique known as anapestic tetrameter strings together four consecutive anapests in a single line.

The word "parachute" forms an anapest, with the first two syllables unstressed and the last stressed.
The word "parachute" forms an anapest, with the first two syllables unstressed and the last stressed.

Many poets are extremely concerned with how the words they write on the page will convey their intended meanings to readers and listeners. For that reason, they use techniques like similes and metaphors to give their words more meaning than they would have if just taken literally. Poets can also use the sound of the words to create their desired effects. Rhythm is an important component of most poems, and poets often choose words just as much for their rhythmical qualities as for their meanings. An anapest is one such rhythmic construction that can be found in poems.

In poetry, an anapest is one of many possible combinations of long, stressed syllables and short, unstressed syllables. This particular rhythm is comprised of two short syllables followed by one long syllable. The syllables are considered to be long and short because they are meant to be spoken with their timing in mind. Long syllables should be spoken for about twice the length of time as short syllables.

It is important to realize that an anapest may be formed by just a single word or by a series of words. For example, the word "parachute" forms one, with the first two syllables of the word being unstressed and the final syllable stressed. By contrast, a phrase like "on the beach" is another example of an anapest. As a matter of fact, many short prepositional phrases form natural anapests. The preposition and the modifier make up the short syllables, while the noun forms the long syllable.

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When poets string a series of anapests together in a single line, they are usually attempting to pull off a poetic structure known as anapestic tetrameter. In such a structure, a line contains 12 syllables consisting of four three-syllable anapests. One example of a line that may be found in anapestic tetrameter is the line, "In the garden of sighs with a strong Southern wind." The anapestic tetrameter structure often brings to mind a marching rhythm.

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Discussion Comments


I won't dispute that an anapestic meter can be used to give the idea of a marching cadence. But it can also be used to resemble a waltz. Think about it -- da da DAH da da DAH.

I guess it's all in what the poem is about. A martial poem in anapest may indeed give you the idea of marching, while if the poem is about dancing or any romantic or softer subject, you may think of waltzing.

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