Glossary of Poetic terms

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Last updated: December 7, 2019
the rhythmically significant stress in the articulation of words, giving some syllables more relative prominence than others. In words of two or more syllables, one syllable is almost invariably stressed more strongly than the other syllables.

An iambic lone of twelve syllables, or six feet, usually with a caesura after the sixth syllable. It is the standard line in French poetry, comparable to the iambic pentameter line in English poetry. (Hexameter)

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A figurative illustration of truths or generalizations about human conduct or experience in a narrative or description by the use of symbolic fictional figures and actions which resemble the subject’s properties and circumstances.

Also called head rhyme or initial rhyme, the repetition of the initial sounds (usually consonants) of stressed syllables in neighboring words or at short intervals within a line or passage, usually at word beginnings, as in “Wild and woolly”. Produce gratifying effect to the ear.

An implied or indirect reference to something assumed to be known, such as an historical event or personage or a well-known quotation from literature.

Applied to words and expressions, the state of being doubtful or indistinct in meaning or capable of being understood in more than one way.

The repetition of a prominent (usually the final) word of a phrase or clause at the beginning of the next, often with extended or altered meaning, as in “His hands were folded — folded in prayer”.

An agreement or similarity in some particulars between things otherwise different; sleep and death, for example, are analogous in that they both share a lack of animation and a recumbent posture.

Anapest, Anapestic
A metrical foot with two short or unaccepted syllables followed by a long or acceptable syllable, as in intervene or for a while.

The repetition of a word or expression at the beginning of successive phrases for rhetorical or poetic effect, as in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: We cannot dedicate- We cannot consecrate- We cannot hallow this ground.

A figure of speech in which a thought is balanced with a contrasting thought in parallel arrangements of words and phrases, such as “He promised wealth and provided poverty”.

A brief statement containing an important truth or fundamental principle

A figure of speech in which an address is made to an absent person or a personified thing rhetorically, as in, “O death, where is thy sting?”.

The relatively close juxtaposition of the same or similar vowel sounds, but with different end consonants in a line or passage, thus a vowel rhyme, as in the words, date and fade.

The omission of conjunctions that ordinarily join coordinate words and phrases, as in “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”.

A song or poem greeting the dawn or about lovers parting at dawn.

The innovating artists or writers who promote the use of new or experimental concepts or techniques.

Rhyme. The story of a ballad can originate from a wide range of subject matter but most frequently deals with folklore or popular legends.

They are written in straight-forward verse, seldom with detail, but always with graphic simplicity and force.

The ludicrous descent from a lofty level of writing to the commonplace, often used in poetry for effect, as “Assailed by tempest-stricken waves, he sank like a stone”.

Blank Verse
Poetry written without rhymes, but which retains a set metrical pattern, usually iambic pentameter (or five iambic feet per line) in English verse.

Since it is a very flexible form, the writer not being hampered in the expression of thought by the need to rhyme, it is used extensively in narrative and dramatic poetry.

A work which is intended to ridicule by the use of grotesque exaggeration or by the treatment of a trifling subject with the gravity due a matter of great importance.

Discordant sounds in the jarring juxtaposition of harsh letters or syllables, sometimes used in poetry for effect, as in the opening line of Fences: Crawling, sprawling, breaching spokes of stone.

A rhythmic break or pause in the flow of sound which is commonly introduced in about the middle of a line of verse, but may be varied for different effects.

usually placed between syllables rhythmically connected in order to aid the recital as well as to convey the meaning more clearly, it is a pause dictated by the sense of the content or by natural speech patters, rather than by metrics.

An inverted relationship between the syntactic elements of parallel phrases, as in “do not eat to live, but live to eat”.

An elaborate metaphor, often strained or far-fetched, in which subject is compared with a simpler analogue usually chosen from nature or a familiar context.

The suggestion of a meaning by a word beyond what it explicitly denotes or describes. The word, home, for examples, means the place where one lives, but by connotation, also suggests security, family, love and comfort.

A pleasing combination of sounds; sounds in agreement with tone. Also, the repetition of the same end consonants of words at the end of or within a line, such as boat and night.

Two successive lines of poetry, usually of equal length and rhythmic correspondence, with end-words that rhyme.

Dactyl, Dactylic
A metrical foot of three syllables, the first of which is long or accented and the next two short or unaccented, as in merrily or lover boy.

The literal dictionary meaning(s) of a word as distinct from an associated idea or connotation.

The choice of words; the manner or mode of verbal expression, particularly with regard to clarity and accuracy.

A line of verse consisting of two metrical feet, or of two dipodies

A mingling or union of harsh, inharmonious sounds which are grating to the ear.

Dramatic Monologue
A literary work which consists of a revealing one-way conversation by a character or persona, usually directed to a second person or imaginary audience.

A dactylic hexameter couplet, with the second line having only an unaccented syllable in the third and sixth feet; also, of or relating to the period in Greece when elegies written in such couplets flourished, about the seventh century B.C.; also relating to an elegy.

A poem of lament over someone who is dead; also, a reflective poem in plaintive or sorrowful mood.

The omission of a word or words necessary to complete a grammatical construction, but which is easily understood by the reader, such as “the virtues I esteem” for “the virtues which I esteem”. Also, the marks (…)

A speech or composition in high praise of a person, object or event.

End rhyme
A rhyme occurring in the terminating word or syllable of one line poetry with that of another line, as opposed to internal rhyme.

Denoting a line of verse in which a logical or rhetorical pause occurs at the end of the line.

The continuation of the sense and therefore the grammatical construction beyond the end of a line of verse or the end of a couplet.

An extended narrative poem, exalted in style but usually simple in construction, and heroic in theme, often giving expression to the ideals of a nation or race.

The repetition of a word or expression at the end of successive phrases or verses, as in Lincoln’s “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

A speech or writing in praise of the character or accomplishments of a person.

The substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression to replace one that might offend or suggest something unpleasant.

Harmony or beauty of sound which provides a pleasing effect to the ear, usually sought-for in poetry for effect.

Extended Metaphor
A metaphor which is drawn-out beyond the usual word or phrase to extend throughout a stanza or an entire poem, usually by using multiple comparisons between the unlike objects or ideas.

A poetic story that illustrates a moral or teaches a lesson, usually in which animals or inanimate objects are represented as characters.

Feminine Rhyme
A rhyme occurring on an unaccented final syllable, as in dining and shining or motion and ocean. Feminine rhymes are double or disyllabic rhymes and are common in heroic couplet.

Figurative Language
The use of words, phrases, symbols, and ideas in such a way as to evoke mental images and sense impressions. figurative language is often characterized by the use of figures of speech, elaborate expressions, sound devices, and syntactic departures from the usual order of literal language.

Figure of Speech
A mode of expression in which words are used out of their literal meaning or out of their ordinary use in order to add beauty or emotional intensity or to transfer the poet’s sense impressions by comparing or identifying one thing with another that has a meaning familiar to the reader.

A unit of rhythm or meter, the division in verse of a group of syllables, one of which is long or accented. For example, the line, “The boy stood on the burning deck,” has four iambic metrical feet. The fundamental components of the foot are the arsis and the thesis.

The arrangement, manner or method used to convey the content, such as free verse, ballad, haiku, etc. In other words, the “way-it-is-said.”

Free Verse
A fluid form which conforms to no set rules of traditional versification. The free in free verse refers to the freedom from fixed patterns of meter and rhyme, but writers of free verse employ familiar poetic devices such as assonance, alliteration, imagery, caesura, figures of speech etc., and their rhythmic effects are dependent on the syllabic cadences emerging from the context.

In literature, the tragic hero’s error of judgement or inherent defect of character, usually less literally translated as a “fatal flaw.” This combined with essential elements of chance and other external forces, brings about a catastrophe.

A line of verse consisting of seven metrical feet. It also called a septenarius, especially in Latin prosody.

Heroic Couplet
Two successive lines of rhymed poetry in iambic pentameter, so called for its use in the composition of epic poetry in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Heroic Quatrain (Heroic Verse)
So named because it is the form in which epic poetry of heroic exploits is generally written, its rhyme scheme is abab, composed in ten-syllable iambic verse in English, hexameter in Greek and Latin, ottava rima in Italian.

A bold, deliberate overstatement, e.g., “I’d give my right arm for a piece of pizza.” Not intended to be taken literally.

The most common metrical foot in English, German and Russian verse, and many other languages as well; it consists of two syllables, a short or unaccented syllable followed by a long or accented syllable.

A pastoral poem, usually brief, stressing the picturesque aspects of country life, or a longer narrative poem generally descriptive of pastoral scenes and written in a highly finished style.

The elements in a literary work used to evoke mental images, not only of the visual sense, but of sensation and emotion as well. While most commonly used in reference to figurative language, imagery is a variable term which can apply to any and all components of a poem that evoke sensory experience, whether figurative or literal, and also applies to the concrete things so imaged.

In Medias Res
The literary device of beginning a narrative, such as an epic poem, at a crucial point in the middle of the series or events.

Interior Monologue
A narrative technique in which action and external events are conveyed indirectly through a fictional character’s mental soliloquy of thoughts and associations.

Internal Rhyme
Also called middle rhyme, a rhyme occurring within the line.

the rhyme may be with words within the line but not at the line end, or with a word at the line end and a word within the line.

Verbal irony is a figure of speech in the form of an expression in which the use of words is the opposite of the thought in the speaker’s mind, thus conveying a meaning that contradicts the literal definition, as when a doctor might say to his patient, “the bad news is that the operation was successful.”

A type of understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary, as in “You won’t be sorry” for “You’ll be glad”

Lyric Verse
One of the main groups of poetry, the others being narrative and dramatic. By far the most frequently used form in modern poetic literature, the term lyric includes all poems in which the speaker’s ardent expression of a (usually single) emotional element predominates.

Masculine Rhyme
A rhyme occurring in words of one syllable or in an accented final syllable, such as light and sight or arise and surprise

A figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one object or idea is applied to another, thereby suggesting a likeness or analogy between them.

Of or relating to a group of 17th century poets whose verse was distinguished by an intellectual and philosophical style, with extended metaphors or conceits comparing very dissimilar things.

A measure of rhythmic quantity, the organized succession of groups of syllables at basically regular intervals in a line of poetry, according to definite metrical patterns.

In classic Greek and Latin versification, meter depended on the way long and short syllables were arranged to succeed one another, but in English the distinction is between accented and unaccented syllables.

A figure of speech involving the substitution of one noun for another of which it is an attribute or which is closely associated with it, “he drank the cup”.

A satiric literary form that treats a trivial or commonplace subject with the elevated language and heroic style of classical epic.

A thematic element recurring frequently in literature, such as the dawn song of an aubade or the carpe diem motif.

A source of inspiration, a guiding genius.

The narration of an event or story, stressing details of plot, incident and action. Along with dramatic and lyric, is one of the main groups of poetry.

A line of verse consisting of eight metrical feet.

A stanza of eight lines, especially the first eight lines of an Italian or Petrarchan sonnet.

A type of lyric or melic verse, usually irregular rather than uniform, generally of considerable length, and sometimes continuous, sometimes divided in accordance with transitions of thought and mood in a complexity of stanzaic forms; it often has varying iambic line lengths with no fixed system of rhyme schemes and is always marked by the rich, intense expression of an elevated thought, often addressed to a praised a person or object.

Strictly speaking, the formation or use of words which imitate sounds, like whispering, clang and sizzle, but the term is generally expanded to refer to any word whose sound is suggestive of its meaning.

The conjunction of words, at first view, seem to be contradictory or incongruous, but whose surprising juxtaposition expresses a truth or dramatic effect, such as, cool fire, deafening silence, wise folly, etc.

A hymn of praise, joy, triumph, etc.

A statement which contains seemingly contradictory elements or appears contrary to common sense, yet can be seen as perhaps, or indeed, true when viewed from another angle, such as Alexander Pope’s statement in An Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot that a literary critic could “damn with faint praise.

The repetition of syntactical similarities in passages closely connected for rhetorical effect, as in Pope’s An Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, “Happy my studies, when by these approved.”

A ludicrous imitation, usually for comic effect but sometimes for ridicule, of the style and content of another work. The humor depends upon the reader’s familiarity with the original.

Pathetic Fallacy
The ascribing of human traits or feelings to inanimate nature for eloquent effect, especially feelings in sympathy with those expressed or experienced by the writer, as a “cruel wind”.

An element in artistic expression evoking pity, sorrow or comparison.

A line of verse consisting of five metrical feet.

The speaker or voice of a literary work, i.

e., who is doing the talking. The “I” of a narrative.

A type of metaphor in which distinctive human characteristics, e.g. honesty, emotion, etc., are attributed to an animal, object or idea.

Literary study or criticism on the nature and laws of poetic theory and practice; also, a treatise on poetry or aesthetics.

The repetition of a number or conjunctions in close succession, as in, “We have men and arms and planes and tanks.”

Ordinary language people use in speaking or writing, distinguished from the language of poetry primarily in that the line is not treated as a formal unit and it has no repetitive pattern of rhythm or meter.

The general term for the structure of poetry; the science of versification according to syllabic quantity, accent, etc.; the systematic study of poetic meter.

A word play suggesting, with humorous intent, the different meanings of one word or the use of two or more words similar in sound but different in meaning.

A poem, unit or stanza of four lines of verse, usually with a rhyme scheme of abab or its variant, xbyb.

Most common stanzaic form.

A basic artistic device, fundamental to any conception of poetry. It is a highly effective unifying force; the repetition of sound, syllables, words, syntactic elements, lines, stanzaic forms, and metrical patterns establishes cycles of expectation which are reinforced with each successive fulfillment.

Rhetorical Question
A question solely for effect, with no answer expected.

By the implication that the answer is obvious, it is a means of achieving an emphasis stronger than a direct statement.

In the specific sense, a type of echoing which utilizes a correspondence of sound in the final accented vowels and all that follows of two or more words, but the preceding consonant sounds must differ, as in the words, bear and care.

Rhyme Royal
A stanza of seven lines of heroic or five-foot iambic verse, rhyming ababbcc. It probably received its name from its use by King James I of Scotland, who was both king and a poet. It was previously known as Triolus verse because Chaucer used it in his Triolus and Criseyde.

Rhyme Scheme
The pattern established by the arrangement of rhymes in a stanza or poem, generally described by using letters of the alphabet to denote the recurrence of rhyming lines, such as the ababbcc of the Rhyme Royal stanza form.

An essential of all poetry, the regular or progressive pattern of recurrent accents in the flow of a poem as determined by the arses and theses of the metrical feet, i.e., the rise and fall of stress. The measure of rhythmic quantity is the meter.

A literary work which exposes and ridicules human vices or folly. Historically perceived as tending toward didacticism, it is usually intended as a moral criticism directed against the injustice of social wrongs.

To mark off lines of poetry into rhythmic units, or feet, to provide a visual representation of their metrical structure.

A fixed form consisting of six 6-line (usually unrhymed) stanzas in which the end words of the following five stanzas in a successively rotating order and as the middle and end words of each of the lines of a concluding envoi in the form of a tercet.

A figure of speech in which an explicit comparison is made between two essentially unlike things, usually using like, as or than.

A talking to oneself; the discourse of a person speaking to himself, whether alone or in the presence of others.

It gives the illusion of being unspoken reflections.

A fixed form consisting of fourteen lines of five-foot iambic verse. In the English or Shakespearean sonnet, the lines are grouped in three quatrains (with six alternating rhymes) followed by a detached rhymed couplet which is usually epigrammatic.

Spondee, Spondaic
A metrical foot with two long or equally accented syllables together, as in BREAD BOX or SHOE-SHINE.

Stanza, Stanzaic
A division of a poem made by arranging the lines into units separated by a space, usually of a corresponding number of lines and a recurrent pattern of meter and rhyme.

Stanza Forms
The names given to describe the number of lines in a stanzaic unit, such as: couplet (2), tercet (3), quatrain (4), quintet (5), etc. Some stanzas follow a set rhyme scheme and meter in addition to the number of lines and are given specific names to describe them, such as, ballad meter, ottava rime, rhyme royal, terza rima, and Spenserian stanza.

The poet’s individual creative process, as determined by choices involving diction, figurative language, rhetorical devices, sounds, and rhythmic patterns.

An image transferred by something that stands for or represents something else, like flag or country or autumn for maturity.

A figure of speech in which a part of something stands for the whole or the whole for a part, as wheels for automobile or society for high society.

the perception or description of one kind of sense impression in words normally used to describe a different sense, like a “sweet voice” or a “velvet smile”.

The way in which linguistic elements (words and phrases) are arranged to form grammatical structure.

The artistically satisfying equilibrium of opposing forces in a poem, usually referring to the use of language and imagery, but often applied to other elements, such as dramatic structure, rhythmic patterns, and sometimes to the aesthetic value of the poem as a whole.

A unit or group of three lines of verse which are rhymed together or have a rhyme scheme that interlaces with an adjoining tercet.

Terza Rima
A verse form consisting of tercets, usually in iambic pentameter in English poetry, with a chain or interlocking rhyme scheme, as: aba, bcb, cdc, etc. The pattern concludes with a separate line added at the end of the poem rhyming with the second line of the preceding tercet or with a rhyming couplet.

A line of verse consisting of four metrical feet.

The central idea, topic, or didactic quality of a work.

The poet’s or persona’s attitude in style or expression toward the subject, e.g., loving, ironic, bitter, pitying, fanciful, solemn, etc. Tone can also refer to the overall mood of the poem itself.

A medieval narrative poem or tale typically describing the downfall of a great person; a drama usually in verse, portraying a conflict between a strong-willed protagonist and a superior force such as destiny, culminating death or disaster.

A line of verse consisting of three metrical feet or three dipodies.

A metrical foot with a long or accented syllable followed by a short or unaccented syllable.

The intentional use of a word or expression figuratively, i.e., used in a different sense from its original significance in order to give vividness or emphasis to an idea.

A line of writing arranged in a metrical pattern, i.

e., a line of poetry. Also, a piece of poetry or a particular form of poetry such as free verse, blank verse, etc.

Verse Paragraph
A line grouping of varying length, as distinct from stanzas of equal length. Seldom used in rhymed verse, they are the usual division in blank verse.

A short verse, especially one from a sacred book.

A little verse; also, a short passage said or sung by a leader in public worship and followed by a response from the people.

The art of writing verses, especially with regard to meter and rhythm.

A poem in a fixed form, consisting of five three-line stanzas followed by a quatrain and having only two rhymes. In the stanzas following the first, the first and third lines of the first stanza are repeated alternately as refrains.

The place at which a distinct turn of thought occurs. The term is most commonly used for the characteristic transition point in a sonnet, as between the octave and sestet of a Petrarchan sonnet.

A figure of speech in which a single word, usually a verb or adjective, is used in the same grammatical and semantic relationship with two or more other words, as in “My father wept for woe while I for joy.”

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