Definition of Anapest

Anapest is a poetic device defined as a metrical foot in a line of a poem that contains three syllables wherein the first two syllables are short and unstressed followed by a third syllable that is long and stressed as given in this line “I must finish my journey alone.” Here the anapestic foot is marked in bold.

Difference between Anapest and Dactyl

Anapest is known as antidactylus, since it is a reverse pattern of dactyl meter. The difference is that anapest consists of three syllables with the first two are unstressed and the last one is stressed such as unstressed/unstressed/stressed pattern. However, dactyl is the opposite of this pattern. It is a metrical foot that consists of three syllables wherein the first two syllables are stressed and the last one is unstressed such as stressed/stressed/unstressed pattern.

Examples of Anapest from Literature

Let us take a few anapest examples from literature:

Example #1

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,….

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast
And their hearts but once heaved, and forever grew still!

(The Destruction of Sennacherib by Lord Byron)

Byron has written this poem in anapestic tetrameter pattern that consists of four anapests in each line. Here in this extract, anapests are marked in bold. The entire poem has the same pattern, where the first two syllables are unstressed followed by a third stressed syllable.

Example #2

I am monarch of all I survey,
My right there is none to dispute;
From the centre all round to the sea,
I am lord of the fowl and the brute.
Oh, solitude! where are the charms….

Better dwell in the midst of alarms,….

I am out of humanity’s reach,
I must finish my journey alone,
Never hear the sweet music of speech….
They are so unacquaintted with man,
Their tameness is shocking to me…..

(Verses Supposed to Be Written by Alexander Selkirk by William Cowper)

This poem shows examples of anapests and iambs combinations. And at some places iambs are substituted by anapests. The poem is written in anapestic trimeter in each line, which means there are three anapests in each line.

Example #3

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,…
While visions of sugar plums danced in their heads…
had just settled our brains for a long winter‘s nap….
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
when they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky…
with the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

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

This poem is a perfect example of anapest, which runs throughout the poem. Most of the lines are following anapestic tetrameter. Like in the first line, there are four anapests. However, three anapests are also used in other lines.

Example #4

May have broken the woof of my tent’s thin roof,
The stars peep behind her and peer;
And I laugh to see them whirl and flee,
Like a swarm of golden bees,
When I widen the rent in my wind-built tent,…
Are each paved with the moon and these….
And the Moon’s with a girdle of pearl;
The volcanoes are dim, and the stars reel and swim,
When the whirlwinds my banner unfurl
Sunbeam-proof, I hang like a roof,
The mountains its columns be.
The triumphal arch through which I march
When the Powers of the air are chained to my chair…
While the moist Earth was laughing below.

(The Cloud by Percy Bysshe Shelley)

This poem is also a very good example of anapest. Each long line has three anapests (anapestic trimeter) followed by shorter lines with two anapests (anapestic dimeter). It is lending rhythm and regular beats to the poem.

Function of Anapest

It helps create artistic lines with a regular meter in a poem. Since anapest ends in a stressed syllable, it makes strong rhyming lines that create music in a poem. It plays a very important role in poetry and the most common role in verses is that of a comic meter, which is, the foot used in the limerick for comical effects.