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Anapestic tetrameter

Anapestic tetrameter

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Anapestic tetrameter is a poetic meter that has four anapestic metrical feet per line. Each foot has two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable. It is sometimes referred to as a "reverse dactyl," and shares the rapid, driving pace of the dactyl.

Description and uses

Anapestic tetrameter is a traditional rhythm for comic verse, and prominent examples include Clement Clarke Moore's 'Twas the night before Christmas, Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark, and Dr. Seuss' Yertle the Turtle and The Cat in the Hat. When used in comic form, Anapestic tetrameter is often highly regular, as the regularity emphasizes the breezy, melodic feel of the meter, though the initial unstressed beat of a line may often be omitted.

However, the verse form is not solely comic, and Lord Byron's epic Don Juan, for example, contains much anapestic tetrameter. In non-comic works, it is likely that anapestic tetrameter will be used in a less regular manner, with caesuras and other meters breaking up the driving regularity of the beat.

Example

An anapestic foot is two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable. We could write the rhythm like this:

da da DUM

A line of anapestic tetrameter is four of these in a row:

da da DUM da da DUM da da DUM da da DUM


We can scan this with a 'x' mark representing an unstressed syllable and a '/' mark representing a stressed syllable. In this notation a line of anapestic tetrameter would look like this:

x x / x x / x x / x x /


The following lines from Dr. Seuss' classic Yertle the Turtle are examples, showing both a complete line of anapestic tetrameter and a line with the first beat omitted:


We can notate the scansion of this as follows:

x
x
/
x
x
/
x
x
/
x
x
/
And to- day the Great Yer- tle, that Mar- vel ous he
x
/
x
x
/
x
x
/
x
x
/
Is King of the Mud. That is all he can see


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