All terms

What is Arsis?

The term arsis refers to the stressed or accented syllable in a poetic meter.

Accentuate the Positive: Understanding the Role of Arsis in Poetic Meter

In the world of poetry, every syllable counts. Arsis is the term used to describe the portion of a foot in metered poetry that contains the stressed or accented syllable. Essentially, it represents the upbeat that propels the rhythm of a poem forward. In contrast, the unaccented portion of the foot is called the thesis, which is the downbeat. Together, they form the music of poetry that echoes long after the words are read.

But that's not all there is to arsis. The term can also refer to the lifting up of the foot in dance or music, which makes sense given its etymological roots in the Greek word for 'lifting.' This connection between poetry, music, and dance is an ancient one that underscores the importance of rhythm, meter, and repetition in the creative arts.

The Two Sides of Arsis: Examples in Literature

Learn how arsis shapes the rhythm of poetry with these literary examples.

'The Waste Land' by T.S. Eliot

In the opening lines of Eliot's masterpiece, the rhythm is immediately established with the repetition of the phrase 'April is the cruellest month,' which begins with an arsis: 'April is the cruellest month.' This upbeat sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is a haunting exploration of the fragmented modern world.

'The Road Not Taken' by Robert Frost

This classic poem by Frost also relies heavily on arsis to create its upbeat, forward-moving rhythm. For instance, in the first stanza, he writes: 'Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,' with 'di' serving as the arsis. This creates a sense of movement and momentum that mirrors the speaker's decision to embark on a new journey.