Subject: What is a Foot?

Date: 12 Jun 1996 00:00:00 GMT

From: (MegEliz)

Organization: RadixNet Internet Services

Newsgroups: alt.foot.fat-free




A measurable, patterned unit of poetic rhythm. The concept of the

foot has been imported into modern accentual-syllabic prosedy from classical

quantitative practice, and disagreement over the nature (and even the

"existence") of the foot has been traditional since the late Renaissance.

The Eng. foot is customarily defined by the orthodox as a measure of rhythm

consisting of 1 accented (stressed, "long") syllable (or 2, as m the

spondee) and 1 or more unaccented (unstressed, "short," "slack") syllables.

The poetic line in a more or less regular composition, say the traditional

prosodists, consists of a number of feet from 1 to 8; conventionally, the

feet are to be roughly of the same kind, although metrical variations

(q.v.), produced by the occasional "substitution" of different feet, are

permissible so long as these substitutions do not efface

for long the repeated pattern of the prevailing foot<p>


In traditional Eng. accentual or accentual-syllabic verse the

following feet are the most common:


iamb (iambic) x / (as in "destroy")

anapest (anapestic) x x / ("intervene")

trochee (trochaic) / x ("topsy")

dactyl (dactylic) / x x ("merrily")

spondee (spondaic) / / ("amen")

pyrrhic x x ("the sea | son of | mists")



Iambic and anapestic feet are called ascending or rising feet;

trochaic and dactylic, descending or falling. Feet of 2 syllables

are called duple feet; feet of 3, triple. Spondaic (except in

sprung rhythm, q.v.) and pyrrhic feet are generally "substitute

feet. Some prosodists recognize also a monosyllabic foot con-

sisting of I stressed syllable. The exemplification of these feet

by single words, above, of course distorts their nature: it is

important to remember that foot divisions do not necessarily

correspond to word divisions, and that the structure of a foot is

determined contextually by the nature of the feet which surround



The foot bears a close resemblance to the musical bar: both are

arbitrary and abstract units of measure which do not necessarily

coincide with the phrasal units which they underlie. The major

difference between them is that the bar always begins with a



It is perhaps unfortunate that the terminology of feet is

borrowed from classical quantitative prosody, where practice is

in general much more regular than in most Eng. verse and where

"substitutions" are largely governed by rule rather than by whim

or instinct. The Greek and Latin poets included feet such as:


amphibrach x / x

bacchius x / /

molossus / / /

tribrach x x x