This is from Randall Jarrell’s The Bat-Poet:

“Oh yes,” said the mockingbird. “And it was clever of you to have that last line two feet short.

The bat said blankly, “Two feet short?”

“It's two feet short,” said the mockingbird a little impatiently. “The next-to-the-last line’s iambic pentameter, and the last line’s iambic trimeter.”

The bat looked so bewildered that the mockingbird said in a kind voice, “An iambic foot has one weak syllable and one strong syllable; the weak one comes first. That last line of yours has six syllables and the one before it has ten; when you shorten the last line like that it gets the effect of the night holding its breath.”

“I didn’t know that,” the bat said. “I just made it like holding your breath.”

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  • 3
    Same thing as it means in "a day late and a dollar short." What about it is confusing? Jun 14 '15 at 17:01

The "feet" here are poetic feet—units of rhythmical meter that collectively make up to a full line of poetry. If the rest of a poem consists of lines of five iambs (or iambic feet) each ("da DA da DA da DA da DA da DA"), a line that consists of only three iambs (""da DA da DA da DA") is "two feet short." (Note that pentameter refers to verse consisting of five poetic feet per line, whereas trimeter refers to verse consisting of three poetic feet per line.)

  • These are also called "metrical feet", which reminds me of the expression "metric ton" or "metric tonne", but that's silly. Jun 14 '15 at 18:12

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