Anapestic Tetrameter

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Anapestic tetrameter is a poetic meter consisting of four anapests in each line of verse. An anapest is a three-syllable foot that is made up of two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable. 

E.g. These lines from Clement Clarke Moore's 'Twas the Night Before Christmasare written in anapestic tetrameter: "'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house."

Anapestic tetrameter is not one of the most commonly used meters in poetry, but when it is used well, it allows writers to create rhythms and sounds that reflect the mood and subject matter of their work. There are only a few well-known examples of this metrical pattern in poetry which can make it hard to study and understand.

Anapestic Tetrameter Definition and Examples


Anapestic Tetrameter Definition

Anapestic tetrameter is a type of meter used in poetry, consisting of four anapests, or metrical feet. An anapest is two syllables of unstressed followed by one syllable of stressed syllables. For example, da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM. 

This meter creates a lively, energetic rhythm when read aloud and is often used in ballads, hymns, and other types of narrative poetry.

Anapestic tetrameter can also be used for humorous effects in light-hearted poems.

Related Metrical Patterns

In addition to anapestic tetrameter, there are other metrical patterns that can be used in poetry and literature. The most common metrical pattern is iambic pentameter, which is the use of five sets of two syllables, each with an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. This is the form commonly used by Shakespeare in his plays and sonnets.

Another common form is trochaic tetrameter, which consists of four sets of two syllables each with a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. An example of this pattern is ‘Twinkle twinkle little star.’

Dactylic hexameter is another type of metrical pattern and consists of six sets of three syllables, each with a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables. This form was commonly used in classical Greek poetry. 

Metrical Patterns with Anapests

There are also other metrical patterns that make use of anapests, such as anapestic trimeter (three sets of three syllables with an unstressed syllable followed by two stressed syllables) and anapestic dimeter (two sets of three syllables with an unstressed syllable followed by two stressed syllables). These metrical forms can be used to create rhythm in poetry or literature.

Examples of Anapestic Tetrameter in Poetry

A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore

‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ is a helpful example of anapestic tetrameter that makes the metrical form easier to understand. This poem is also known as ‘‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.’ 

The poet uses a rhyme scheme of AABBCCDD, and so on, as well as key moments of anapestic tetrameter to structure his verse. Here is an excerpt from the poem: 

‘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,

The first two syllables of each metrical foot are unstressed, and the following syllable is stressed. Every third syllable of the poem is unstressed. The two words “before Christmas” are a great example. The syllables “be” and “fore” are unstressed, followed by “christ” as a stressed syllable. “Mas” is unstressed and begins the next foot. 

Read more Clement Clarke Moore poems

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

The Cat in the Hat is a famous children’s novel written by Dr. Seuss. The book is written in anapestic tetrameter, something that’s seen in other rhyming children’s books throughout the history of the English language. Here are a few lines from the book: 

The sun did not shine.

It was too wet to play. 

So we sat in the house 

All that cold, cold, wet day.

The first anapest in the last line is a very good example of how Dr. Seuss used the metrical pattern in his work. But, it’s also clear from these first lines that he did not consistently use it throughout the entire book. This is far more common than a perfectly structured example of a verse that’s entirely written in the pattern.

Explore Dr. Seuss’ poetry.

How to Use Anapestic Tetrameter in Your Writing

Anapestic tetrameter is a poetic meter that consists of four anapestic feet per line of verse. An anapest is a metrical foot made up of two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable like the word “understand.” This means that each line of anapestic tetrameter will have eight syllables, with the stresses falling on the fourth, sixth, and eighth syllables.

Anapestic tetrameter is not as common as iambic pentameter, trochaic trimeter, or other easier-to-use meters, but it can still be found in some great examples of poetry.

Using anapestic tetrameter in your writing can seem intimidating at first. However, once you understand the basic concept, it can actually be quite easy to incorporate it into your work. Here are a few tips to make the meter easier to understand and use:

  • Use an accentual-syllabic approach to analyzing your lines: Count the total number of syllables and make sure that every fourth syllable is stressed.
  • Read your poem aloud to make sure that the stresses fall in the right places.
  • When writing anapestic tetrameter, use words that are full of energy and motion. Choose words that are short yet powerful.
  • Don’t be afraid to mix up your lines with other metrical patterns. Anapestic tetrameter is often used in conjunction with other meters, such as trochaic tetrameter.

It may take some practice to get the hang of it, but it’s definitely worth the effort. Anapestic tetrameter is a great way to add life and motion to poetry.

FAQs 

What is the purpose of anapestic tetrameter? 

The purpose is to structure the lines in a way that provides a steady, bouncing rhythm. This is often used to create a feeling of energy or motion in the poem.

What is an example of anapestic tetrameter? 

An example of anapestic tetrameter is Clement Clarke Moore’s ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas.’ This well-loved poem uses sets of anapests throughout its lines. 

What is the most common meter in poetry? 

The most common meter in poetry is certainly iambic pentameter. It’s fairly easy to use, and unlike anapestic tetrameter, it’s far easier to maintain over a few, or all, the lines in a poem. 


Related Literary Terms 

  • Accent: refers to the stressed syllable in a word. Metered lines of verse are made up of different groups of syllables.
  • Cretic: an extremely rare metrical foot that’s composed of one stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable and concluded with one final stressed syllable. 
  • Falling Rhythm: refers to a rhythmic pattern that’s created through repeated metrical feet. These feet use a stressed beat followed by an unstressed beat or an accented syllable followed by an unaccented syllable.
  • Iambic Dimeter: a type of meter used in poetry. It occurs when the writer uses two iambs per line of verse.

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