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9&60 ways - meter - mini-lesson 3 - dactylic and anapaestic meters

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Old 07-30-2015, 12:42 PM
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Default 9&60 ways - meter - mini-lesson 3 - dactylic and anapaestic meters

9&60 Ways - Meter - mini-lesson 3 - dactylic and anapestic meters

So far, we've looked at iambic and trochaic feet, both of them two syllables: iambs are /weak Stong/, and trochees are the reverse, /Strong weak/. Iambic rhythm is, by far, the most common in English poetry. Trochaic rhythm and all the others are more rarely used - by far.

The other two disyllabic (two syllable) feet are pyrrhic and spondaic: pyrrhic feet are /weak, weak/ while spondees are strong, strong. Obviously, neither of these can be sustained as a regular meter, so they are only used to add variety - which is very important. I will be writing a mini-lesson on that subject in the near future.

So those are all disyllabic feet: iambic, trochaic, pyrrhic and spondaic.

Prosody (the study of meter and rhythm in poetry) also recognizes three and four syllable feet, but in practice, there are only two other feet (besides iambic and trochaic) that appear as regular meters in English poetry with any regularity, anapaestic and dactylic, although they are comparatively rare.


An anapest is like an iamb but with an extra weak syllable at the beginning. Here are a couple of anapaestic words and phrases:

- un-der-STAND
- in-ter-RUPT
- com-pre-HEND
- con-tea-DICT
- get a LIFE
- In the BLINK / of an EYE

Here is probably the most famous example of a poem written in (predominantly) anapaestic meter:

‘Twas the NIGHT / be-fore CHRIST/-mas, when ALL / through the HOUSE/
Not a CREA/-ture was STIR/-ring, not E/-ven a MOUSE . . .

(‘Twas the Night before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore)


A dactyl is the opposite of the anapest, Sww as opposed to wwS.

Here are some words and phrases that are in dactylic rhythm:

- EL-e-phant
- GAL-lop-ing
- CON-ti-nent
- E-ever-glades
- OUT of the CLOS/-et and IN/-to the /STREET . . .

Here is a line written in dactylic meter:

Warbling, warbling, just like a nightingale . . .

And here is, probably, the most famous example of a poem in dactylic rhythm (omitted weak syllables indicated by underscores):

HALF a league,/ HALF a league,/
HALF a league /onward, _ /
ALL in the /VAL-ley of /DEATH _ _/
RODE the six /HUN-dred. _ /
“FOR-ward, the /LIGHT Bri-gade!/
CHARGE for the /GUNS!” he said./
IN-to the/ VAL-ley of /DEATH _ _/
RODE the six/ HUN-dred. _ /
(The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson)

The two missing weak syllables immediately after "death" is an example of effective word painting, and this kind of omission of weak syllables, particularly at the ends of lines, is quite common in dactylic poems.

Here is part of another (predominantly) dactylic poem.

HIG-gle-dy PIG-gle-dy,
BA-con, lord CHAN-cel-lor.
NEG-li-gent, FELL for the
PAL-tri er VICE. _ _
BRI-ber-y TOP-pled him,
FIN-ished him, TES-ting some
POUL-try on ICE. _ _

(Higgledy Piggledy by Ian Lancashire)

Thus endeth the lesson, as they say in the Church of England.

If it appeals to yout ry writing some lines in anapestic and dactylic rhythm and post them in this thread.

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