Writing Poetry: Meter with Three Syllables
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Writing Poetry: Meter with Three Syllables

Anapests and dactyls are poetic feet with three syllables.

The English language has a natural tendency to alternate between stressed and unstressed syllables. In fact, most words contain a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. When English words are strung together in a sentence, the pattern of syllables creates a natural rise and fall in the language. Even when writing in prose or conversing casually, these stress patterns are present.

Poetry pays careful attention to these patterns in language. Often, poetry is distinguished from prose by the focus on and attention to meter. Meter is a specific pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables which is repeated within the line of poetry. Different patterns of meter produce different effects within the poem. Meter is usually broken down into two-syllable increments called feet. https://knoji.com/writing-poetry-meter-with-two-syllables/ Sometimes, however, a metrical foot can be three syllables long.

The simplest and most common type of meter is the iamb which is comprised of one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable (pro-DUCE). The opposite of an iamb is a trochee which begins with a stressed syllable and ends with an unstressed syllable (UN-der). The spondaic and pyrrhic feet are also comprised of two syllables.

There are two traditional types of meter which have three-syllable feet: the anapest and the dactyl. These types of metrical feet can have a different effect on the poem than iambs and trochees which are more repetitive. Like two-syllable feet, anapests and dactyls can occur within a single word or stretch across multiple words.

An anapestic foot occurs when two unstressed syllables are followed by a stressed syllable. The word “anapest” actually fits the anapestic meter: (an-a-PEST). The first two syllables are not stressed while the final syllable is. An example of an anapestic line of poetry can be found in Clement Clarke Moore’s famous poem “A Visit from Saint Nick:” twas the NIGHT/be-for CHRIS/-mas when ALL/through the HOUSE.

The opposite of an anapest is a dactyl. Dactyls are also three-syllable feet, but dactyls begin with the stressed syllable which is followed by two unstressed syllables. “Poetry” is an example of a dactylic foot within a single word: (PO-e-try). Dactyl comes from a Greek word which means finger. The dactyl mimics the bones of the finger—one long, followed by two short. An example of a dactylic line of poetry can be found in “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson: WHEN can their/GLO-ry fade/O the wild/CHARGE they made.

There are many different variations on these two and three syllable feet. A line of poetry doesn’t have to fit perfectly into one of these patterns in order to be considered correct. Often it is variations in the meter that make poetry unique and interesting.

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