Reversed foot

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In prosody, a reversed (or inverted) foot is a foot, most often at the start of a line, in which the stressed and unstressed syllables are used in the unexpected order. This is usually to emphasize a word or an idea. Typically such as, for example, when the first foot of an iambic pentameter is not an iamb, but a trochee, as in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure (I iii 117)

Aye, but to die, and go we know not where

where Claudio's horror at the thought of his impending execution is emphasized by the unexpected force given to his first word. It may be scanned

| / ˘ | ˘ / | ˘ / | ˘ / | ˘ / |

(where ˘ marks an unstressed syllable, / marks a stressed syllable and | shows the boundary of the foot), instead of the expected (regular blank verse) pattern of

| ˘ / | ˘ / | ˘ / | ˘ / | ˘ / |

which gives a strong sense of the pause in his speech, echoing the depth of the thought which is occupying his mind. Again, at the start of John Donne's 'Holy Sonnet'

Batter my heart, three-person'd God

the reversed foot which begins the line, and indeed the poem, | / ˘ |, a trochee instead of | ˘ / |, the normal iamb, gives a strong sense of the rhetorical imperative: the poet dares, in his religious troubles, to give orders to his God.This is one of the striking conceits for which the Metaphysical poets are known.