An anapaest - pronounced 'AN-er-peest', IPA: /ˈæn ə piːst/ - is a metrical foot of three syllables, the first and second syllables unstressed and the third syllable stressed - as in such words and phrases as 'unopposed', 'limousine', 'in the house', 'colonnade', and 'on a chair'. The adjective is anapaestic - 'an-er-PEEST-ik', IPA: / æn ə ˈpiːst ɪk/.
The following lines are the first verse of Ireland' by Dora Sigerson (1866-1918), with the stressed syllables printed in bold type. You will see that all the lines are composed of two anapaestic feet - each line is an anapaestic dimeter.
- 'Twas the dream of a God,
- And the mould of his hand,
- That you shook 'neath His stroke,
- That you trembled and broke
- To this beautiful land.
- To the man-in-the-street who, I’m sorry to say,
- Is a keen observer of life,
- The word intellectual suggests straight away
- A man who’s untrue to his wife.
This account of anapaest, as it stands, fits English poetry and most medieval and modern European poetry, where poetic rhythm is constituted by the patterned arrangement of stressed and unstressed syllables. However, in the poetry of Classical Greece and Rome and in Classical Arabic poetry metre consists in the patterned arrangement not of stressed and unstressed syllables but of long and short syllables (see quantitative metre). In this context an anapaest is a metrical foot of three syllables, the first and second syllables short and the third syllable long.
- The words anapaest and anapaestic come from the Greek word anapaistos (ἀνάπαιστος), which is an adjective from the verb anapaiein (ἀνάπαιειν, 'to strike back') and means 'struck back, or reversed'. The Greeks called an anapaestic foot 'reversed' because they thought of it as a reversed dactyl - in a dactylic foot the first syllable is stressed, whereas in an anapaestic foot the last syllable is stressed. Some writers (e.g. Bailey, 1724) even label this foot an antidactyl.