What types of metrical feet are used in the three lines quoted below?There was a young lady of WiltsWho walked up to Scotland on stilts; She answered then what about kilts?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This very interesting question features the triplet lines, 1, 2 and 5, of a limerick. Lines 3 and 4, the couplet portion of a limerick, are missing. Limericks have a set form that defines them. The basic rhythm of the limerick is anapestic (da da DA), with the triplet in trimeter--3 metric feet per line--and the couplet in dimeter--2 metric feet per line.

In addition, the first two lines quoted are acephalous "headless" lines from which an initial unstressed beat has been dropped.  Specifically, the da da DA anapestic lines are made acephalic, or headless, by the elimination of each first unstressed beat:

__ There was' / a young la' / -dy of Wilts'
__ Who walked' / up to Scot' / -land on stilts';

In an overview then, the metrical feet of the three quoted lines is anapestic trimeter. The first two lines are truncated with acephalic initial feet, while the third, which would be the final line of an aabba rhyme limerick and usually written as a full anapestic trimeter, is also a headless acephalic truncated anapest:

__ She an' / -swered then what' /  a -bout kilts'?

A full anapestic last line might have been written something like this:

But she an' / -swered then what' / a -bout kilts'?


slauritzen | Student

It is anapestic trimeter.  It contains three sets (trimeter) of unstressed, unstressed, stressed syllables. (u u /)  Think of it as the place you would put the emphasis in a word.

    u    /     u   u    /   u  u   / 

There was a young lady of Wilts

   u     /       u  u   /    u      u   / 

Who walked up to Scotland on stilts