What Is Anapest In Poetry

Anapest is a specific foot in poetry that consists of three syllables. Anapest is derived from the Greek word anapae, which translates to ‘return’ or ‘back again.’ This is because the pattern of anapest follows a specific rhythm where two unstressed syllables are followed by a single stressed syllable.

Anapest as a metric tool originated in classical Greek and Latin poetics. It is still employed today in modern English-language poetry and in music. For example, in Alexander Pope’s popular poem, The Rape of the Lock, we find some examples of anapest like the line: (“And once the vanish’d Lock shall ne’er return” ) Here the first two syllables “van” and “ish” are unstressed, while the final syllable “ed” is stressed.

Anapest has been used by some of the greatest poets in history, including William Shakespeare, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats. In particular, Keats’ most famous poem, ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ has a distinctive anapest throughout,“My heart aches and a drowsy numbness pains / My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk”

In anapest, the two unstressed syllables are often referred to as the ‘light’ or ‘off beat’ syllables and the stressed syllable is referred to as the ‘heavy’ or ‘on beat’ syllable. This alternating pattern of light and heavy syllables creates a rhythm in the poem, allowing it to move along at a certain beat or tempo. This rhythmic pattern is what gives anapest an almost musical quality. Anapest is therefore often described as a ‘dactylic’ rhythm, as it has a very similar structure to the 3-syllable dactyl.

To differentiate anapest from other metric feet, we must examine the underlying metrical structure of the poem. Generally speaking, in anapest, the stress pattern is UU/ instead of the more common U/U, where U stands for an unstressed syllable and / stands for a stressed syllable. Therefore, all of the metric feet in a poem featuring anapest would begin with two unstressed syllables.

Anapest is one of the most common metric feet used in poetry and can be found in many poetic forms, including ballads, odes and sonnets. To look at it another way, anapest can be seen as a way to create a specific measure or pattern of sound in a poem. By employing anapest, poets can easily create a steady, rhythmic movement throughout the text, which can be used to create a certain atmosphere or emotion in the reader.

Pros and Cons of Anapest in Poetry

Anapest has its advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, anapest can help poets stay within a certain rhythm, helping them establish and maintain a consistent meter and flow throughout their poem. On the other hand, if overused, anapest can make a poem sound monotonous and tedious, as the same rhythmic pattern is repeated throughout. Therefore, it is important to make sure that anapest is used sparingly and with variety, in order to create a more interesting and dynamic poem.

Varieties of Anapest in different Forms of Poems

In addition to using anapest in various poetic forms, poets can also use it in a variety of ways, such as reversing the order of the two unstressed syllables, elongating or shortening the duration of certain syllables and including pauses or line breaks. For example, in a haiku, the use of anapest can help to create a sense of movement, as well as a certain emotional resonance that is reverberating throughout the poem.

Anapest can also be used to create a certain musical or rhythmical effect in a poem. By emphasizing certain syllables and playing with their duration, poets can make certain sections of the poem stand out or linger in the mind. For example, some poets might use anapest to create a feeling of suspense or anticipation, or to highlight important moments in the poem.

Benefits of Anapest in Poetry

Anapest can be used to great effect when employed in the right context. For example, anapest can help create an emotionally charged atmosphere that can draw the reader in and hold their attention. In addition, anapest is a great tool for creating a sense of movement in a poem, as the rhythmic pattern is inherently suggestive of movement and progress. Though anapest can be overused and when not used properly can sound monotonous, if employed wisely, it can help create a unique, vibrant and powerful poem.

Techniques to Master Anapest

In order to use anapest effectively, poets must first become aware of how the different syllables in the language work, in terms of accent and rhyme. This can be done through close reading of poets who frequently employ anapest, as well as careful analysis of their poems. In addition, poets must be aware of the different techniques they can use to manipulate anapest, such as reversing the order of the two unstressed syllables and elongating or shortening the duration of certain syllables. Finally, poets should always practice, practice, practice when trying to master anapest.

Noteworthy Anapest Poems

There are many noteworthy poems that make use of anapest. To name a few, John Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ is a fine example of anapest, as is William Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 18’ and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind.’ In addition, Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’, which contains one of the most famous anapest lines of all time, is another great example that makes use of anapest to great effect.

Fun Exercises to practice Anapest

To practice using anapest, poets can try to write a poem using nothing but anapest. This can be a great way to explore the different facets of anapest and to experiment with different forms and techniques. In addition, poems can also be written by alternating different types of metric feet. For example, alternating between anapest, trochee and iambic pentameter can be a great way to create a unique and interesting poem.

Resources to Learn About Anapest

In order to learn more about anapest, poets can turn to a wide variety of resources. A great place to start is by reading some of the aforementioned poems that make use of anapest, as they can serve as excellent examples of how to effectively employ the metric foot. In addition, there are a number of online tutorials and books available on the topic of anapest, which can help poets gain a better understanding of the metric foot and the different ways it can be used in poetry.


Anapest is a powerful and versatile tool for poets, and can be used to great effect if employed wisely. By becoming aware of the metrical structure of anapest, familiarizing oneself with different techniques for manipulating it, and reading and analyzing some of the best examples of anapest, poets can learn to use anapest to create emotionally charged, evocative and rhythmical works of art.

Dannah Hannah is an established poet and author who loves to write about the beauty and power of poetry. She has published several collections of her own works, as well as articles and reviews on poets she admires. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a specialization in poetics, from the University of Toronto. Hannah was also a panelist for the 2017 Futurepoem book Poetry + Social Justice, which aimed to bring attention to activism through poetry. She lives in Toronto, Canada, where she continues to write and explore the depths of poetry and its influence on our lives.

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