What Is The Meaning Of The Poetic Term Anapest?

An anapest can be defined as a metrical foot consisting of three syllables, the first two are unstressed followed by one stressed syllable, often referred to as “reverse dactyl” as it follows the rapid pace of the dactyl where the emphasis is placed on the first syllable. Examples of anapest in the English language are words such as “contradict” and “understand”, both of which contain three syllables with the accent on the last syllable. Anapestic words are more common in languages other than English such as French, and many phrases that are borrowed from the French language such as “art nouveau” and “haute couture” contain anapestic words.

Examples of the use of anapests in poetry include “The Sick Rose” by William Blake, “The Unknown Citizen” by W.H. Auden and “Twas The Night Before Christmas” by Clement C. Moore – which is almost entirely made up of anapests. An Anapestic tetrameter in poetry contains four anapestic metrical feet in each line, each foot having two syllables that are unstressed with the stress on the final syllable. Foot refers to the most basic unit of a poem’s meter and is a combination of stressed and unstressed syllables making up a line of the meter.

The word “anapest”, also written “anapaest” has an identical definition to “antidactylus” and means “struck back” in Greek. A dactyl is a metric foot where the stress is on the first syllable followed by two that are unstressed, which is why an anapest is considered to be a reversed dactyl.
Three forms of anapestic meter:

1. Anapestic Trimeter with 3 metrical anapestic feet each with three syllables giving each line a total of 9 syllables;
2. Anapestic Tetrameter with 4 metrical anapestic feet each having 3 syllables in anapestic form with a total of 12 syllables in each line;
3. Anapestic Hexameter the least common anapest – contains 6 anapestic feet with 3 syllables each giving a total of 18 syllables per line.

Some idioms in the English language are common examples of anapest such as the phrases: “get a life”, “costs an arm and a leg”, “feeling under the weather”, “at the drop of a hat” and the song by Cole Porter: “In the Still of the Night”. Popular poetic forms of Limerick often contain playful anapestic meter.