An anapest is a metrical unit. It depends on three-syllable sections of verse or words. The first two are unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable. 

Facts About Anapests

  • An anapest is the opposite of a dactyl.
  • Writers utilize it in order to express long lines more fluidly or breezily.
  • Anapestic words flow easily into one another.
  • It is often used in addition to iambic meter and trochaic meter.
  • Anapests are frequently used in comedic verse.

Anapest Example #1

A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore

This well-loved poem, which is also known as ’Twas the Night Before Christmas,’  is a great example of how a writer can use several anapests in a row.

‘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,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds;

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

The first few two lines, if written with their scansion noted, would look like:

U    U    /       U   U    /       U       U     /    U           U      /

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

  U   U  /     U    U   /   U     U   / U U    /

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

Anapest Example #2

The Cloud by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Shelley’s ‘The Cloud’ is another interesting example. Consider these lines from the long poem:

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 first line contains the stressed syllables “bro,” “woof,” and “tent’s.” The second line’s stressed syllables are “peep” and “her.” Immediately, the pattern breaks. This is not uncommon in anapestic verse. It’s extremely hard for a writer to maintain this pattern throughout an entire poem. But, in the third line, it’s re-established. The words “laugh,” “them,” and “flee” are stressed.

Other Anapestic Poems to Explore