In a literary sense, foot refers to a unit of meter in poetry. It is a set of stressed and unstressed syllables that makes a "beat" in the rhythmic line of poetry. The "feet" in the line of poetry create the meter, or rhythm.
Types of Feet in Poetry
There are many different examples of "feet" in poetry. These are some of the more common:
- Iamb: unstressed and stressed syllable (ta-DUM)
- Anapest: two unstressed and a stressed syllable - (ta-ta-DUM)
- Dactyl: one stressed and two unstressed syllables - (TA-dum-dum)
- Spondee: two stressed syllables - (TA-DUM)
- Trochee: stressed and unstressed syllables (TA-dum)
The most commonly recognized foot in poetry is iamb because it is the one used by Shakespeare, who wrote in iambic pentameter (5 iambs per line). But all of these feet are used in poetry.
Examples of Foot In Literature
Here is an example of iambs used in a sonnet by William Shakespeare-the first two lines have the accented syllables in bold:
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
"The Tyger" by William Blake uses the trochaic foot. Here are the first two lines of the poem:
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
These lines from Lord Byron are written using anapestic foot:
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold, And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
Literary Terms Examples