Well it’s been a busy week, but now that I’m safely settled, I resume my task. I must say that writing in the comfort of the sun on my balcony in Thailand has a definite appeal to it!
The title of this chapter is this:
Ternary feet: we meet the anapaest and the dactyl, the molossus, the tribach, the amphibrach and the amphimacer.
Well if that doesn’t sound like a misfit bunch of dinosaurs, then I don’t know what does. Also, in terms of something I am about to attempt to learn about, it is quite possibly the most terrifying thing I have ever heard. Why must we always give things weird names and scare ourselves with them? Ternary is the name given to feet that have three syllables, as opposed to the binary ones I’ve looked at so far, i.e. two syllables.
First up is anapaest, which is two unstressed and a stressed syllable ( _ _ / ). Stephen helpful informs me that it is pronounced to rhyme with ‘am a beast,’ which I think is rather fitting, given its weird name. You can use anapaest for one three syllable word or for three single syllable words. Unconvinced, or at a loss. One of the most famous poems that uses this form is ‘The Night Before Christmas.’
Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
And so on.
Even hearing that now makes me feel a bit Christmassy, and it’s only the end of January.
Stephen attempts to flatter me (and it works- I love you Stephen!) by casually saying that students of the future will be studying my poetry for rhythm and stuff.
If you take off the first syllable of an anapaest, then you get an acephalous (headless) foot. The headless anapaest, the scariest dinosaur going. You can just imagine it stumbling around, lumbering and slashing at things, whilst all the time trying to speak in verse despite having no head. Or maybe that’s just me.
Another famous way in which the anapaest is used is in the William Tell overture. Stephen gets me to sing it out loud substituting the du du dum’s with anapaests and spondees. I’m sorry, that makes no sense really but it definitely signifies my slow decent into madness.
Anapaest anapaest anapaest spon-dee.
Anapaest anapaest anapaest spon-dee!
If you have any idea what I’m on about, which I don’t blame you at all if you don’t, then you should try it. It’s quite fun. You know you want to.
Next up is the Dactyl. There is a lot said over a few pages but mainly I just skim, because it’s all far too intellectual. The main thing I learn is that the Dactyl is a strong, weak, weak foot ( / _ _ ) and is practically impossible to use in English. So I don’t feel too bad about not paying attention.
After that I meet the molossus; possibly my favourite name in this venture yet. A molossus is a foot with three stressed beats, like a giant booming its way across the countryside. Stephen writes that ‘the molossus is the ternary version of the spondee.’ Of course, that’s exactly what I thought too….
After some revision, I realise what he means. A spondee is two stressed beats, and ternary means three. So the molossus is three stressed beats. It’s funny how simple things are sometimes, but how they become so complicated and confusing through the use of unnecessary vocabulary.
Random- I’ve just been through my spell check which wouldn’t accept any of the words I’m learning about, or even let me add them to the dictionary. Apparently my computer thinks it’s all nonsense. How rude.
In the same way as the molossus, the tribach is the ternary version of the pyrrhic foot (three unstressed beats). I can imagine the poor pyrrhic foot in the playground, saying to the spondee bully, “I’ll get my big brother on you.” And the spondee saying, “Well I’ll get my brother too.”
Then in comes the weedy looking tribach hoping in vain to protect his even weedier sibling from the terrifying giant molossus. You can guess how the story ends.
To add insult to injury, the tribach is hardly ever, ever, ever used in English. Just given a name and then left to rot.
I still have two more terms left to cover—the amphibrach and the amphimacer—but my brain hurts so I’ll leave it here for now.