An anapaest (/ - /,; also spelled anapæst or anapest, also called antidactylus) is a metrical foot used in formal poetry. In classical quantitative meters it consists of two short syllables followed by a long one; in accentual stress meters it consists of two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable. It may be seen as a reversed dactyl. This word comes from the Greek ἀνάπαιστος, anápaistos, literally "struck back" and in a poetic context "a dactyl reversed".
|◡ ◡||pyrrhic, dibrach|
|– ◡||trochee, choree|
|◡ ◡ ◡||tribrach|
|– ◡ ◡||dactyl|
|◡ – ◡||amphibrach|
|◡ ◡ –||anapaest, antidactylus|
|◡ – –||bacchius|
|– – ◡||antibacchius|
|– ◡ –||cretic, amphimacer|
|– – –||molossus|
|See main article for tetrasyllables.|
Because of its length and the fact that it ends with a stressed syllable and so allows for strong rhymes, anapaest can produce a very rolling verse, and allows for long lines with a great deal of internal complexity.
Apart from their independent role, anapaests are sometimes used as substitutions in iambic verse. In strict iambic pentameter, anapaests are rare, but they are found with some frequency in freer versions of the iambic line, such as the verse of Shakespeare's last plays, or the lyric poetry of the 19th century.
Since the word anapest consists of a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables, it is ironically a dactyl.
An even more complex example comes from Yeats's The Wanderings of Oisin. He intersperses anapests and iambs, using six-foot lines (rather than four feet as above). Since the anapaest is already a long foot, this makes for very long lines.
The mixture of anapaests and iambs in this manner is most characteristic of late-19th-century verse, particularly that of Algernon Charles Swinburne in poems such as The Triumph of Time and the choruses from Atalanta in Calydon. Swinburne also wrote several poems in more or less straight anapaests, with line-lengths varying from three feet ("Dolores") to eight feet ("March: An Ode").
Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea can be described as mainly being written in anapaestic heptameter, or two dimetric lines followed by a trimetric one. At the end of the verses there is a critic monometer and a line that is a variation of an iambic pentameter.
The anapaest's most common role in English verse is as a comic metre: the foot of the limerick, of Lewis Carroll's poem The Hunting of the Snark, Edward Lear's nonsense poems, T. S. Eliot's Book of Practical Cats, a number of Dr. Seuss stories, and innumerable other examples.