Glossary of Poetic Terms: Sapphic to Syntax..

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Last updated: December 14, 2019
Classical Greek stanza used by the lyric poetess Sappho and comprising of four unrhymed lines. The first three lines are written in trochaic pentameter except for the third foot which is a dactyl. The fourth line has only two feet: a dactyl and a trochee.

Satirical Verse
Verse which employs wit and ridicule to attack hypocrisy, pomposity or social injustice etc.

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Dryden, Pope and Swift were all renowned for their satirical verse. See also Scriblerus Club and mock-heroic.

The analysis of lines of poetry to identify their metrical pattern.

A form developed by the Japanese poet Senryu Karai (1718-1790), which is almost identical to a haiku but takes as its subject matter human issues rather than nature.

A stanza comprising of seven lines.

Serpentine Verse
Line or stanza of poetry which begins and ends with the same word.

Sesta Rima
A six line stanza composed of a quatrain and a couplet and rhymed a-b-a-b-c-c.

This verse form is often known as the Venus and Adonis stanza as it was used by Shakespeare in his narrative poem of that name.

A stanza comprising of six lines e.g. The Castaway by William Cowper. A sestet is also the last six lines of a sonnet – following the octave.

Usually an unrhymed poem consisting of six stanzas made up of six lines each. The sestina employs word repetition rather than rhyme. The last word of each line in the first stanza is repeated in a different order in the following five stanzas.

This form was invented by the troubadour poet Arnaud Daniel. Examples of sestina include Complaint of Lisa by Swinburne and Paysage Moralis̩ by Auden. However, some writers in English have also written rhymed sestina Рsee Sestina by Swinburne.

Shakespearean Sonnet
See sonnet.

Chinese term for different types of poetry/poems. See also jintishi, gushi and xinshi.

Sick Verse
Poetry which exhibits an unhealthy preoccupation with subjects such as death or disease e.

g. Surgeon at 2 a.m. by Sylvia Plath or Late Flowering Lust by John Betjeman.

Korean verse form, of great antiquity, consisting (normally) of three lines: the first two composed of fourteen or fifteen syllables and the last composed of fifteen syllables.

The explicit comparison of two objects/phenomenon/states etc – by employing either ‘as’ or ‘like’ e.g. ‘My love is like a red, red rose’ by Robert Burns.

Another famous simile is ‘Like a patient etherised upon a table;’ from the start of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S.


Skeltonic Verse/ Skeltonics
Skeltonics Verse written in the style of John Skelton (?1460-1529). Skeltonic verse features short, irregular lines with multiple rhymes, written in a tumbling, helter-skelter style e.g. the following lines form How the Doughty Duke of AlbanyO ye wretched Scots,Ye puant pisspots,It shall be your lotsTo be knit up with knots.

A poem which is written to be sung or chanted – with or without musical accompaniment.

A fourteen line poem usually in iambic pentameters consisting of an octave and a sestet. The octave presents and develops the theme while the sestet reflects and brings the poem to a conclusion.Over the years there have been many variations upon the sonnet form

Sonnet: Italian or Petrarchan Sonnet:
The sonnet was originated by the Italian poet Guittone of Arezzo and then popularised by Petrarch (1304-74). The term sonnet derives from the Italian for ‘little song’. The Italian sonnet has the following rhyme scheme: a-b-b-a, a-b-b-a, c-d-e, c-d-e.

Sonnet: Miltonic Sonnet:
John Milton invented a sonnet form that utilised the original Petrarchan rhyme scheme but did not feature the traditional break between the octave and the sestet – hence giving his sonnet a more unified feel e.

g. On His Blindness.After Milton the use of the sonnet declined until the end of the 18th century when it was picked up again by the likes of Thomas Gray (see On the Death of Richard West). The sonnet re-established itself with the romantic poets – see Ozymandias by Shelley and Upon Westminster Bridge by Wordsworth. Since then the sonnet has continued to be a popular form. W.H.Auden was a regular sonneteer (see The Quest and Sonnets from China).

Sonnet: Shakespearean or English Sonnet:
The Shakespearean or English sonnet employs an a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g rhyme scheme. Essentially it consists of three quatrains and a final couplet and usually features a break between the octave and the sestet.

Sonnet: Spenserian Sonnet:
Edmund Spenser employed an a-b-a-b, b-c-b-c, c-d-c-d, e-e rhyme scheme – as evidenced in his Amoretti sequence. This form has not been particularly popular.

Sonnet: Curtal Sonnet:
An eleven line sonnet devised by Gerard Manley Hopkins and featuring an a-b-c-a-b-c, d-b-c-d-c rhyme scheme e.

g. Pied Beauty. Hopkins also used the traditional stanza to great effect.

A writer of sonnets.

Sonnet Sequence
A collection of sonnets.

The first sonnet sequence in English was Astrophel and Stella by Sir Philip Sidney. Other sonnet sequences include Amoretti by Spenser, Shakespeare’s sonnets (154 in total), Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett-Browning and more recently The Glanmore Sonnets by Seamus Heaney.

Spelling Rhyme
This occurs where the end words of a line are spelled similarly e.g. ‘love’ and ‘move’ but don’t chime together as rhymes.

Spenserian Stanza
Stanza form developed by Edmund Spenser and almost certainly influenced by rhyme royal and ottava rima. Spenser’s stanza has nine lines and is rhymed a-b-a-b-b-c-b-c-c.

The first eight lines of the stanza are in iambic pentameter and the last line in iambic hexameter. He used this form in his epic poem The Faerie Queene. John Keats, a great admirer of Spenser, used this stanza in his poem The Eve of St. Agnes.

Spondaic Meter
Two syllable metrical foot where both syllables are stressed. This is a comparatively rare meter in English poetry but an example of spondaic meter can be seen in the first three feet of this line from Milton’s Paradise Lost:ROCKS, CAVES | LAKES, FENS | BOGS, DENS| and SHADES | of DEATH

A foot consisting of two long or stressed syllables e.

g. as in ‘PANCAKE’.

Sprung Rhythm
A unique system of meter devised by Gerard Manley Hopkins and evident in poems such as Pied Beauty and The Windhover. In Sprung rhythm one stressed syllable can make up a foot e.g. in Pied Beauty:With SWIFT,|- SLOW:|- SWEET,|- SOUR;|a DAZZ| le, DIMHopkins referred to the unstressed syllables in the line as ‘hangers’ or ‘outrides’. The above line also demonstrates Hopkins use of alliteration.

One or more lines that make up the basic units of a poem – separated from each other by spacing.Over the centuries Greek, Roman, French, Italian, English, German and Japanese poets have evolved a huge number of different stanza forms. Some of these forms still carry the name of the poet who invented them e.g. the Petrarchan sonnet, the Spenserian Stanza or the Burns Stanza.Stanza forms can also be classified by the number of lines they employ e.

g. the couplet, the triplet, the quatrain etc.

The first stanza of a Pindaric ode.

A unit of pronunciation making up a word. For example, the word ‘badger’ consists of two syllables ‘bad’ and ‘ger’. In English, syllables can be defined as either stressed (long) or unstressed (short).

Syllable Counting
Technique used in both traditional metrical verse forms (see meter) and in Japanese inspired forms such as haiku or tanka. In traditional metrical forms the counting is based on the regular patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line.

In Japanese forms, the syllable count is based solely on the total number of syllables. Some modern poets such as Marianne Moore and Peter Reading have used this second type of syllable counting to give their work intricate structures.

Words or images that signify more than they literally represent e.g.

the ‘sun’ or the ‘moon’. Symbols can carry a number of different connotations . Yeats frequently used symbols in his poetry – in particular the ‘tower’. As a symbol the ‘tower’ carries connotations of strength and sexuality, but is also a tarot card representing suffering and destruction. In addition, Yeats once owned Thoor Ballylee, a Norman tower in County Galway which was a visible symbol of his Anglo-Irish roots.

Synaesthesia/ Synesthesia
The description of a sense impression (smell, touch, sound etc) but in terms of another seemingly inappropriate sense e.g. ‘a deafening yellow’. Synesthesia is particularly associated with the French symbolist poets. Keats also uses synesthesia in Ode to a Nightingale with the term ‘sunburnt mirth’.

Type of elision where two adjacent vowels occur and one is suppressed e.g. ‘And strike to dust th’ imperial tow’rs of Troy’ by Pope.

Figure of speech where a part is made to stand for the whole e.g.

in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar : ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.’

Word or phrase with the same meaning as another e.g. ‘nice’ and ‘pleasant’.

The grammatical arrangement of words in a sentence.

In traditional poetry syntax was often altered/reversed in order to facilitate a rhyme scheme e.g. in this poem by A.

E.Housman:’When I would muse in boyhood The wild green woods amongAnd nurse resolves and fancies Because the world was young,”Among’ is thrown to the end of the line in order to rhyme with ‘young’. Modern poets tend not to alter syntax in this way.

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