Poetic Elements Definitions

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Last updated: November 25, 2019

Repeated consonant sounds at the beginning of words placed near each other, usually on the same or adjacent lines. A somewhat looser definition is that it is the use of the same consonant in any part of adjacent words.

Repeated vowel sounds in words placed near each other, usually on the same or adjacent lines. These should be in sounds that are accented, or stressed, rather than in vowel sounds that are unaccented.

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Repeated consonant sounds at the ending of words placed near each other, usually on the same or adjacent lines. These should be in sounds that are accented, or stressed, rather than in vowel-2-sounds that are unaccented. This produces a pleasing kind of near-rhyme.

A discordant series of harsh, unpleasant sounds helps to convey disorder.

This is often furthered by the combined effect of the meaning and the difficulty of pronunciation

A series of musically pleasant sounds, conveying a sense of harmony and beauty to the language.

Words that sound like their meanings. In Hear the steady tick of the old hall clock, the word tick sounds like the action of the clock, If assonance or alliteration can be onomatopoeic, as the sound ‘ck’ is repeated in tick and clock, so much the better.

At least sounds should suit the tone – heavy sounds for weightiness, light for the delicate. Tick is a light word, but transpose the light T to its heavier counterpart, D; and transpose the light CK to its heavier counterpart G, and tick becomes the much more solid and down to earth dig.

The purposeful re-use of words and phrases for an effect.

Sometimes, especially with longer phrases that contain a different key word each time, this is called parallelism. It has been a central part of poetry in many cultures. Many of the Psalms use this device as one of their unifying elements.

This is the one device most commonly associated with poetry by the general public. Words that have different beginning sounds but whose endings sound alike, including the final vowel sound and everything following it, are said to rhyme.

Double rhymes
include the final two syllables.

Triple rhymes
include the final three syllables.

half rhyme
If only the final consonant sounds of the words are the same, but the initial consonants and the vowel sounds are different.

near rhyme
If the final vowel sounds are the-3-same, but the final consonant sounds are slightly different

sight rhymes
Words which are spelled the same

Although the general public is seldom directly conscious of it, nearly everyone responds on some level to the organization of speech rhythms (verbal stresses) into a regular pattern of accented syllables separated by unaccented syllables.

Rhythm helps to distinguish poetry from prose.

is the conscious measure of the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry

A representation of an abstract or spiritual meaning. Sometimes it can be a single word or phrase, such as the name of a character or place. Often, it is a symbolic narrative that has not only a literal meaning, but a larger one understood only after reading the entire story or poem

A brief reference to some person, historical event, work of art, or Biblical or mythological situation or character.

A word or phrase that can mean more than one thing, even in its context. Poets often search out such words to add richness to their work.

Often, one meaning seems quite readily apparent, but other, deeper and darker meanings, await those who contemplate the poem.

A comparison, usually something unfamiliar with something familiar.

Speaking directly to a real or imagined listener or inanimate object; addressing that person or thing by name.

Any figure of speech that was once clever and original but through overuse has become outdated. If you’ve heard more than two or three other people say it more than two or three times, chances are the phrase is too timeworn to be useful in your writing.

The emotional, psychological or social overtones of a word; its implications and associations apart from its literal meaning. Often, this is what distinguishes the precisely correct word from one that is merely acceptable.

Closely arranged things with strikingly different characteristics

The dictionary definition of a word; its literal meaning apart from any associations or connotations. Students must exercise caution when beginning to use a thesaurus, since often the words that are clustered together may share a denotative meaning, but not a connotative one, and the substitution of a word can sometimes destroy the mood, and even the meaning, of a poem.

An understatement, used to lessen the effect of a statement; substituting something innocuous for something that might be offensive or hurtful.

An outrageous exaggeration used for effect.

A contradictory statement or situation to reveal a reality different from what appears to be true.

A direct comparison between two unlike things, stating that one is the other or does the action of the other.

A figure of speech in which a person, place, or thing is referred to by something closely associated with it

A combination of two words that appear to contradict each other.

A statement in which a seeming contradiction may reveal an unexpected truth.

Attributing human characteristics to an inanimate object, animal, or abstract idea.

Word play in which words with totally different meanings have similar or identical sounds

A direct comparison of two unlike things using “like” or “as.”

An ordinary object, event, animal, or person to which we have attached extraordinary meaning and significance – a flag to represent a country, a lion to represent courage, a wall to symbolize separation.

Indicating a person, object, etc. by letting only a certain part represent the whole

1st Person
the speaker is a character in the story or poem and tells it from his/her perspective (uses “I”).

3rd Person limited
the speaker is not part of the story, but tells about the other characters through the limited perceptions of one other person.

3rd Person omniscient
the speaker is not part of the story, but is able to “know” and describe what all characters are thinking.

The continuation of the logical sense — and therefore the grammatical construction — beyond the end of a line of poetry.

This is sometimes done with the title, which in effect becomes the first line of the poem.

poetic form free from regularity and consistency in elements such as rhyme, line length, and metrical form

poetic form subject to a fixed structure and pattern

Blank Verse
unrhymed iambic pentameter (much of the plays of Shakespeare are written in this form)

Free Verse
lines with no prescribed pattern or structure — the poet determines all the variables as seems appropriate for each poem

Heroic Couplet
a pair of rhymed lines in iambic pentameter (traditional heroic epic form)

a narrative poem written as a series of quatrains in which lines of iambic tetrameter alternate with iambic trimeter

a French form, it consists of three seven or eight-line stanzas using no more than three recurrent rhymes, with an identical refrain after each stanza and a closing envoi repeating the rhymes of the last four lines of the stanza

a pithy, sometimes satiric, couplet or quatrain comprising a single thought or event and often aphoristic with a witty or humorous turn of thought

a brief poem or statement in memory of someone who is deceased, used as, or suitable for, a tombstone inscription; now, often witty or humorous and written without intent of actual funerary use

a Japanese form of poetry consisting of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables. The elusive flavor of the form, however, lies more in its touch and tone than in its syllabic structure. Deeply imbedded in Japanese culture and strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism, haiku are very brief descriptions of nature that convey some implicit insight or essence of a moment. Traditionally, they contain either a direct or oblique reference to a season

a light or humorous form of five chiefly anapestic verses of which lines one, two and five are of three feet and lines three and four are of two feet

derived from the Malayan pantun, it consists of a varying number of four-line stanzas with lines rhyming alternately; the second and fourth lines of each stanza repeated to form the first and third lines of the succeeding stanza, with the first and third lines of the first stanza forming the second and fourth of the last stanza, but in reverse order, so that the opening and closing lines of the poem are identical.

a fixed form consisting of six 6-line (usually unrhymed) stanzas in which the end words of the first stanza recur as 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.

Italian (Petrarchan) Sonnet
a form of sonnet made popular by Petrarch with a rhyme scheme of abbaabba cdecde or cdcdcd

Spenserian Sonnet
a variant of the Shakespearean form in which the quatrains are linked with a chain or interlocked rhyme scheme, abab bcbc cdcd ee.

a poem or stanza of eight lines in which the first line is repeated as the fourth and seventh lines, and the second line as the eighth, with a rhyme scheme of ABaAabAB, as in Adelaide Crapsey’s “Song” (the capital letters in the rhyme scheme indicate the repetition of identical lines).

An attempt to fuse different senses by describing one kind of sense impression in words normally used to describe another.

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