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Amphimacer

An amphimacer is a metrical foot that consists of three syllables. It’s the opposite of an amphibrach.

This means that amphimacer consists of one short syllable between two long syllables. These may also be referred to as accented and unaccented syllables or stressed and unstressed syllables. This meter was most commonly used in Roman comedy, but it was still rare even then. It is also referred to as a cretic.

Amphimacer pronunciation: ahm-fee-may-sir

Amphimacer definition and examples


Definition of Amphimacer

An amphimacer is a unit of meter. It occurs when the poet places on unstressed beat between two stressed beats. It is uncommon to see a writer intentionally use this kind of verse throughout a poem. Plus, due to the arrangement of stresses, it’s hard to scan for.

Amphimacers or cretics were used in aeolic or paeonic Greek and Roman verse. They were used as a way of transitioning from one line to the next if the poet was already using iambs and trochees. In English poetry, it’s most likely a reader will stumble upon an example of a cretic/amphimacer when they’re reading folk poetry. It’s also possible to find amphimacers used in advertising and slogans.

Examples of Amphimacer in Poetry

Spring by William Blake

‘Spring’ is one of the best-known examples of an English-language poet using amphimacers in their verse. It was first published in Songs of Innocence in 1789 and then later in Songs of Innocence and Experience in 1794. The poem is quite simple, using short lines and direct language throughout. It’s a celebration of spring and provides the reader with clear images of the season. Here is the first stanza:

Sound the Flute!

Now it’s mute.

Birds delight

Day and Night.

Nightingale

In the dale

Lark in Sky

Merrily

Merrily Merrily to welcome in the Year

The use of amphimacers or cretics in this stanza is fairly obvious. Phrases like “Sound the Flute!” and “Now it’s mute” are clear examples of the stressed, unstressed, stressed pattern. The second stanza provides a few more examples with:

Little Boy

Full of joy.

Little Girl

Sweet and small,

Cock does crow

So do you.

Merry voice

Infant noise

[…]

“Little boy,” in which “tle” is unstressed, as well as “full of joy,” in which “of” is unstressed, start the stanza with two good examples. The repetition of this pattern so many times throughout the poem, and the fact that the lines are so short, give this piece a distinct rhythm.

Read more William Blake poems.

Why Do Poets Use Amphimacers?

Poets rarely intentionally write an entire poem in amphimacers. They, like amphibrachs and anapests, are used on rare occasions when certain stressed and unstressed syllables need to be arranged. For example, it’s most common to find these tri-syllable metrical feet at the end of lines, being used to transition from one line of a poem to the next. ‘Spring’ by William Blake is an exception rather than the rule. The pattern of stressed, unstressed, stressed syllables allows writers to make punchy, direct statements. But, when these statements are used one after another, they’re going to create a steady rhythm that feels less natural than iambs or trochees do.

FAQs

Why do poets use meter?

Writers use meter when they want to imbue their poetry with a specific rhythm. Metrical patterns can make poems feel slow, fast, dark, or optimistic. Some are more complex than others, making them an interesting challenge to engage with.

How to write a poem in amphimacer or cretic meter?

To write a poem in amphimacer meter, you have to be prepared to write in sets of three syllables. To make it consistent, these syllables need to follow a pattern of stressed, unstressed, stressed beats. Some writers might choose to only use three-syllable lines, while others might combine amphimacers with other metrical feet.

What are the most common types of metrical feet in poetry?

Iambs and trochees are the most common metrical feet in poetry. They’re also the only metrical feet that are usually used consistently throughout a poem. Others, like anapests, are extremely difficult to use exclusively.

What types of meter use three syllables?

Anapests, amphimacers, amphibrachs, and dactyls all use three syllables. An anapest uses two unstressed beats followed by a stressed beat. The dactyl is the exact opposite. This means it contains on stressed beat followed by an unstressed beat. The amphibrach is another. It puts one stressed beat between two unstressed beats.

How common are amphimacers?

Amphimacers are far less common than some of the other metrical feet poets use. For example, readers are going to be hard-pressed to find a poem written completely in amphimacer, tri-syllable metrical feet, but it’s very easy to find a poem that uses iambs or trochees.


  • Poetic Foot: a foot refers to a unit of meter in poetry. It is a grouping of stressed and/or unstressed syllables.
  • Accent: the word “accent” refers to the stressed syllable in a word. Metered lines of verse are made up of different groups of syllables.
  • Trimeter: one type of meter used in poetry, in which each line has three metrical feet.
  • Cadence: the natural rhythm of a piece of text, created through a writer’s selective arrangement of words, rhymes, and the creation of meter.
  • Meter: the pattern of beats in a line of poetry. It is a combination of the number of beats and arrangement of stresses.


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