You may be wondering what feet have to do with poetry. That’s fair, it does seem super odd at first. I suppose the word “feet” has a double meaning if we look at it metaphorically (which, of course, we’re going to do, because we’re poetry lovers). Syllables in poetry stand on feet, in a way. And feet are the basis of measurement for meters in poetry.
So what is a metrical foot? It is the foundational unit of measurement when we talk about meter! A foot has two or more syllables and typically contains one stressed syllable and at least one unstressed syllable.
Naturally, since we’re talking about English and English is a ridiculous language, there is a huge variety of types of feet. They all have different rules and they all can be used and studied and analyzed. One can ask themselves, why did this poet used dactyls when they could have used iambs?
Why does this even matter?
Using different feet affects the sounds in poetry, and can evoke different thoughts or feelings when reading.
Here’s a handy, alphabetized list of metrical feet in English poetry. I’ve broken it down into names, definitions, examples, and their point (or why it matters).
|Name||Definition||Example||Why We Care|
|Iamb||An unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable||delay, Noel, insist, arise, destroy||Iambs mimic typical English speaking patterns so they’re pretty important if you want naturally flowing poems.|
|Trochee||A stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable.||happy, forest, apple, mango, dragon||Trochaic meter often gives poetry a punch. It’s a stronger sounding meter, thus stronger sounding poems.|
|Dactyl||A stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables.||carefully, tenderly, buffalo, scorpion, parable||Dactylic poetry has a softer sound to it as the stress tapers off.|
|Anapest||Two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable.||understand, interrupt, anapest, contradict||First of all, the word “anapest” is an anapest, which is dope.|
|Spondee||Two stressed syllables.||football, heartbreak, drop-dead, breakdown, love song||Spondaic poetry often is reminiscent of galloping. It’s quick, staccato poetry that runs like a horse.|
|Pyrrhic||Two unstressed syllables.||“to a,” “in a,” “is to,” etc.||This one isn’t as common, so do we care? Debatable. They mainly attach to other feet and rely on those. Poor pyrrhic meter. 😦|
Feet are important! They hold up the poem.
Also, my name (Hannah Renea) is a combination of an iamb and a trochee, so that’s pretty cool. Up, down, down, up!
Poetry 101 is a series where I teach readers a thing or two about poetry, which is probably a bad idea since I am an amateur and learning as I go. If I ever make a mistake, please head over to the contact section, let me know, and promptly ridicule me. Thank you.