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Wednesday 26 September 2012

Nuts and Bolts: anapaest.

Anapaests are feet.

They're not the sort of feet people or ostriches have, though, but the sort that keeps English poetry from falling over.

Actually, now I come to think about it, though, triffids might have anapaests. If triffids existed. Which I hope they don't.


English words often have bits in them that are said loudly, and other bits that are said more softly So: ENGlish, for example (and, for another example, exAMPle). This is jolly important in English poetry, which tends to be arranged so the loud bits come along in a regular pattern: for instance, MAry HAD a LITTle LAMB, where the loud bits and soft bits take it in turns.

Mary had a little lamb goes loud/soft, loud/soft etc, and each loud/soft is called a foot.

All feet in all verses have just one loud bit in it, but the soft bits can come in various positions and numbers.

An anapaest is a foot which goes soft soft LOUD. For instance, the lyrics of the song You'll Never Walk Alone begin with some anapaests: If you WALK, through the STORM, hold your HEAD...

The example that's usually given of verse containing anapaests is this one:

The ASSYRian came DOWN like a 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.
That's from The Destruction of Sennacherib by Byron.

Anapaests do gallop along very nicely. Here's one last example from Lewis Carroll and The Hunting of the Snark:

In the midst of the word he was trying to say
In the midst of his laughter and glee
He had softly and suddenly vanished away
For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.
Illustration by Henry Holiday. It's from The Hunting of the Snark, but it doesn't show the Snark itself: Lewis Carroll rejected Holiday's illustration of the Snark because Carroll wanted the Snark to remain pleasingly mysterious.
Thing To Hear Today: an anapaest. If stuck, all you need to do is say: will you come? or in a hole?
The word anapaest comes from the Greek word anápaistos, struck back (because the pattern LOUD soft soft, which is a back-to-front anapaest, seemed more normal to the Greeks) from ana, which means back, and paiein, to strike.

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