Poetry Key Terms

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Last updated: November 26, 2019

Rhyme Scheme
The pattern of rhymes within a given poem.

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Stanza
A group of two or more lines in poetry combined according to subject matter, rhyme, or some other plan.

Onomatopoeia
The use of words whose sounds suggest their meaning.

Alliteration
The repetition of one or more initial consonants in a group of words or lines of poetry or prose.

Consonance
The repetition of two or more consonant sounds in a group of words or lines of poetry or prose.

Meter
The pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables found in poetry.

Anapest
A three-syllable foot containing two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed one. ( U U — ) For example: ling-er-ie, pal-is-ade

Caesura
A pause somewhere in the middle of a verse, often (but not always) marked by punctuation.

Assonance
The repetition of two or more vowel sounds in a group of words or lines of poetry or prose.

Elisions
Unstressed syllables omitted for the sake of meter. For example: o’er (over) and ne’er (never).

Enjambment
The use of successive lines with no punctuation or pause between them.

Metonymy
A figure of speech that uses the name of one thing to represent something else with which it is associated.

Couplet
A pair of rhyming lines in a poem, usually in the same meter (but not always).

Litotes
A form of understatement in which the negative is used to achieve emphasis or intensity.

Personification
A figure of speech in which objects or animals are given human characteristics.

Allusion
A reference to a person, place, or event meant to create an effect or enhance the meaning of an idea.

Paradox
A statement that seems self-contradictory but is nevertheless true.

Allegory
A story in which the narrative or characters carry an underlying symbolic, metaphorical, or possibly ethical meaning.

Hyperbole
Overstatement; gross exaggeration for rhetorical effect.

Rhyme
The repetition of similar sounds at regular intervals.

Slant Rhyme
Sounds that are close but not exact duplicates of one another. For example: seen/been; ill/all; summer/somewhere.

Tercet Rhyme
The repetition of similar sounds in a set of three lines.

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Dissonance
Another name for “consonance”.

Iamb
A two-syllable foot containing an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one. ( U — ) For example: re-spect, ex-tent

Trochee
A two-syllable foot containing a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one. ( — U ) For example: mit-ten, gun-shot

Poetic Foot
A unit of stressed and unstressed syllables used to determine the meter of a poetic line.

Spondee
A two-syllable foot containing two equally stressed syllables.

( — — )

Dactyl
A three-syllable foot containing a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed ones. ( — U U ) For example: pos-sib-le, crock-e-ry

Diction
The choice of words in oral and written discourse.

Metaphor
A figure of speech that compares unlike objects.

Simile
A figurative comparison using the words “like” or “as”.

Synecdoche
A figure of speech in which a part signifies the whole or the whole signifies the part.

Oxymoron
A term consisting of contradictory elements juxtaposed to create a paradoxical effect.

Tone
The author’s attitude toward the subject being written about. The characteristic emotion that pervades a work or part of a work.

Blank Verse
Unrhymed poetry written in iambic pentameter.

Free Verse
A kind of poetry without rhymed lines, rhythm, or fixed metrical feet.

Narrative
A form of verse or prose that tells a story.

Cinquain
A distinct group of five lines in a poem.

Lyric Poem
Personal, reflective poetry that reveals the speaker’s thoughts and feelings about the subject.

Sonnet
A popular form of verse consisting of fourteen lines and a prescribed rhyme scheme.

Italian Sonnet
A poem consisting of an octave and a sestet.

Shakespearean Sonnet
A poem consisting of three quatrains and a couplet.

Heroic Couplet
Two rhymed lines written in iambic pentameter.

Limerick
Five rhymed lines of verse, with the third and fourth lines shorter than the others. Often surprise readers with a rhyme or pun in the last line.

Ballad
A simple narrative verse that tells a story that is sung or recited.

Elegy
A poem or prose selection that laments or mediates on the passing or death of something or someone of value.

Ode
A lyric poem usually marked by serious, respectful, and exalted feelings toward the subject.

Villanelle
A nineteen-line poem with five three-line stanzas and a concluding quatrain.

Metaphysical Poetry
The work of poets, particularly those of the seventeenth century, that uses elaborate conceits, is highly intellectual, and expresses the complexities of love and life.

Romantic Poetry
Carefully structured metrical poems that originated in medieval France and told stories of chivalrous knights undertaking perilous journeys often to rescue damsels in distress.

Dramatic Monologue
A poem spoken by one person to a listener who may influence the speaker with a look or an action but says nothing.

Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Byron
Five romantic poets.

Donne, Marvell, Herbert
Three metaphysical poets.

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