Friday, September 16, 2005

Anapestic Tetrameter: Poetic Structure or Medical Condition?

On a chalkboard in one of my classes was the phrase "anapestic tetrameter." A classmate and I spent a few minutes trying to figure out what it was. We'd heard of "iambic pentameter," so we were reasonably sure this was a literary term, although "anapestic" sure sounds like an infection of your GI tract.

After a quick google search, here is the answer to our query, cobbled together from varied sources which I have sadly forgotten to write down for author credit:

A "foot", in the poet's glossary, is a unit of stressed and unstressed syllables. There are many varied combinations possible; five prevail in English poetry:

one unstressed syllable, followed by one stressed : iamb
one stressed syllable, then one unstressed : trochee
two unstressed, one stressed : anapest
one stressed, two unstressed : dactyl
two stressed : spondee

A rhythm built by repetitions of iambs is "iambic". Repetition of trochees is trochaic; anapests, anapestic; dactyls, dactylic. For a line of all spondees,it's "spondeic".

monometer one foot- he SITS
dimeter two feet- he SITS on CHAIRS
trimeter three feet- he SITS on CHAIRS in BARS
tetrameter four feet- he SITS on CHAIRS in BARS and THINKS
pentameter five feet- he SITS on CHAIRS in BARS and THINKS of CARS
hexameter six feet- he SITS on CHAIRS in BARS and THINKS of CARS that BREAK

Evidently, the best known example of anapestic pentameter is "The Night Before Christmas." So now you know that to have anapestic pentameter, you need poetry, not Pepto.


Mike said...

Interesting I have to write some anapestic tetrameter regarding business management and training - could you give me an example? or lead me to a resource?


Bedlam said...

Many of the better examples of anapestic tetrameter 'prose' (that I'm aware of anyway) can be found within the pages of some of the most beloved books of the Twentieth Century. And even if may of us don't not know that they know it; the truth is, most of us know of many of these books by heart. But since words like 'anapestic tetrameter, portmanteau, and trisyllabic' simply don't role off the lips as easily as:

"All ready to put up the tents for my circus.
I think I will call it the Circus McGurkus.
"And NOW comes an act of Enormous Enormance!
No former performer's performed this performance!"

It's hard for most of us to associate them with the wit and genius that was Dr. Seuss.

Red Penn said...

'twas the NIGHT beforeCHRIStmas when ALL through the HOUSE
not a CREature was STIRring, not EVen a MOUSE

Sorry, that's anapestic Tetrameter

(anapest = 2 unstressed then 1 STRESSED)
(Tetrameta = Four feet to the line.

Red Penn said...

And the Circus McGurkus poem (Seuss) is anapestic tetrameter

Anonymous said...

Very helpful! but I am sure a tetrameter has the first foot reversed so it would read:


and there are also changes in pentameter and hexameter with regards to syllables :)

your blog is awesome by the way :)
(I went anon just in case I was wrong - the shame would be bad :)

richard savage said...

Today's (11 Feb 2012) Wall St Journal contains an article (by a prof of literature, John Miller) on "Mortality", Abraham Lincoln's favorite poem (he memorized many). It is anapestic tetrameter, written by William Knox, a Scottish poet, early 1800's.
"Oh why should the spirit of Mortal be proud"
The theme is taken from Ecclesiastes.