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An interesting minority of English poems use the anapest (x x /) as their basic foot. Tetrameter and trimeter are the most common lengths. Though anapests threaten a kind of jaunty horsiness, some of these poems have a very complex rhythmic character: read the "Example" below, and ask yourself whether Blake's poem moves "fast" or "slowly."

In order to scan anapestic poems, all you need to do is consider how the switch from iambics is bound to change the list of most likely metrical substitutions.

Substitutions in Anapestic Verse

Shortening the anapest by one slack syllable (like a defective foot in iambic verse) creates iambic substitution (x /). Spondaic substitution (/ /) is also possible, but rather drastic. More often, the full complement of three syllables is maintained, but one of the anapest's slack syllables gets stressed, producing either the cretic (or amphimacer) (/ x /) or the bacchius (x / /). (Note: do you see why this extra stress can't be a promoted one? See the definition of Promoted Stresses.)

When a line ends in a slack syllable (often as part of a two-syllable rhyme), then in place of the amphibrach used in iambic verse you will find the third paeon (x x / x).

It might be possible to find a molossus (/ / /) or a dactyl (/ x x). But remember that -- precisely because the anapestic meters are less common -- the poet has less freedom to vary them radically, without the reader losing track of the basic meter.

Example of a Poem in Anapestics
Ah Sun-flower
William Blake

/ / | / x /| x x / spondee, cretic
Ah sun-flower! weary of time,
x / | x x / | x x / iamb
Who countest the steps of the Sun,
/ x / |x / / | / x / cretic, bacchius, cretic
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
x x /|x x / | x x /
Where the traveller's journey is done;

x x / | / x / | x x / cretic
Where the Youth pined away with desire,
x x / | / x /| x x / cretic
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow,
x / | x x / | x x / iamb
Arise from their graves and aspire,
x x / | / x /| x x / cretic
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

Verse whose basic foot is the trochee is fairly rare in English poetry -- far behind iambics and even anapestics. Probably the reason for this is that the dominance of the iamb makes trochaic lines very fragile: when even slight variations are applied, our habits of listening tend to turn the line back into an iambic one. Technically, a line like this

/ x / x / x /
Earth receive an honoured guest
W. H. Auden

could just as easily be trochaics (the last one defective) as iambics (the first one defective). But we're more likely to hear it as the latter.

For an example of trochaic verse, select Sir Walter Scott's "Lucy Ashton's Song" from the "Additional Exercises" on the Map menu. The commentary on that poem explains how this choice of meter affects the possible metrical substitutions.

The poetry native to each language favors one kind of meter or another. The choice depends mainly on the history and character of the language. A language in which two words may be identical except in pitch (such as Chinese and Yoruba) encourages poets to organize pitch as a basis for prosodies. In Germanic languages like Anglo-Saxon, accent is strongly marked and helps to distinguish similar words; so Anglo-Saxon poets counted accents (four) per line. Word accent is much less definite in French, and French meters are counts of syllables. In Classical languages, syllables had definite lengths, and this characteristic of words was incorporated into their quantitative meters.

Literary history, too, can favor one kind of meter, and one particular meter. Because English is a hybrid of Anglo-Saxon and French, our meters came to be accentual-syllabic. At first the iambic tetrameter promised to dominate our poetry (perhaps partly as a reminiscence of the old four-stress line); but Chaucer discovered the virtues of the pentameter, and his enormous popularity helped to establish it permanently. The introduction of prosodic theory in the sixteenth century -- borrowed from Greek and Latin -- though it couldn't make English a quantitative language, exerted a long-term influence toward Classical forms and ideals and away from "native" ones -- which is one reason why Wordsworth's and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads were such a shock.

say - ZHUR' - ah
plural "caesurae": say - ZHUR' - eye

A caesura is a pause within a line, created by syntax. (Often it coincides with a mark of punctuation, though not always, and not every mark of punctuation marks a noticeable pause.) It's not a metrical event in the narrowest sense, but a moment that highlights the relation between syntax and meter, between the sentence and the line.

Because caesura links metrical and syntactical rhythms, it can control prosodic movement. Highly regular verse (e.g., 18th century) dictates medial caesura (after the 4th, 5th, or 6th syllabic of the iambic pentameter). In that strict context, even tiny variations can function as an expressive resource, somewhat as metrical substitution does in less regular verse. In less regular verse, caesura becomes somewhat less important, though it's almost always there; it has to be more violent -- closer to one end of the line or the other -- to be especially noticeable.

Caesura can fall either within a foot or between feet (though, pedantically speaking, the latter is called "diaeresis"). Caesura could be marked with "#":

x x | / / |x # x | / / | x /
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more