Poetry literary terms

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Last updated: November 27, 2019

An extended metaphor in which the characters, places, and objects in a narrative carry figurative meaning. Often an allegory’s meaning is religious, moral, or historical in nature. b. A narrative technique in which characters representing things or abstract ideas are used to convey a message or teach a lesson.

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Allegory is typically used to teach moral, ethical, or religious lessons but is sometimes used for satiric or political purposes

a. A brief, intentional reference to a historical, mythic, or literary person, place, event, or movement. b. A reference in a work of literature to something outside the work, especially to a well-known historical or literary even, person or work.

a. The quality of having more than one meaningb.

Language that admits more than one meaning and enriches the texture of a poem.

a. The repetition of a word or words at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses, or linesb. The deliberate repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of several successive verses, clauses, or paragraphs.

a. Contrasting or combining two terms, phrases, or clauses with opposite meanings. b.

Figure of speech characterized by strongly contrasting words, clauses, sentences, or ideas. Antithesis is a balancing of one term against another for emphasis or stylistic effectiveness.

a. An address to a dead or absent person, or personification as if he or she were presentb. A figure of speech in which someone (usually, but not always absent), some abstract quality, or a nonexistent personage is directly addressed as though present.

a. Stylistic scheme in which conjunctions are deliberately omitted from a series of related clauses. b.

Writing style that omits conjunctions between words, phrases, or clauses

Blank verse
a. Unrhyming iambic pentameter, also called heroic verse. This 10-syllable line is the predominant rhythm of traditional English dramatic and epic poetry, as it is considered the closest to English speech patterns.b. Unrhymed iambic pentameter

a. Repetition of any group of verse elements (including rhyme and grammatical structure) in reverse order, such as the rhyme scheme ABBA.

b. Figure of speech by which the order of the terms in the first of two parallel clauses is reversed in the second. This may involve a repetition of the same words

Confessional poetry

Vividly self-revelatory verse associated with a number of American poets writing in the 1950s and 1960sb. Confessional poetry is marked by its intimate autobiographical subject matter.

a. An implied meaning of a word.b. An idea or feeling that a word invokes in addition to its literal or primary meaning.

a. The literal meaning of a wordb. The direct or dictionary meaning of a word, in contrast to its figurativeor associated meanings

a. A device where two objects/ ideas are put in opposition to one another to show/ emphasize the differences between themb.

Author uses contrast when he or she describes the difference(s) between two or more entities

a. A moment in the story where a character achieves realization, awareness or feeling of knowledge after which events are seen through the prism of this new light in the story.b. A sudden realization–a flash of recognition in which someone or something is seen in a new light.

a. The repetition of a word at the end of successive clauses or sentences.b. Repetition of a word or expression at the end of successive phrases, clauses, sentences, or verses especially for rhetorical or poetic effect

Free verse

Nonmetrical, nonrhyming lines that closely follow the natural rhythms of speech. A regular pattern of sound or rhythm may emerge in free-verse lines, but the poet does not adhere to a metrical plan in their composition. b. Poetry, which is not written in a traditional meter but is still rhythmical.

a. A figure of speech composed of a striking exaggeration. Hyperbole usually carries the force of strong emotionb.

a deliberate, extravagant, and often outrageous exaggeration. It may be used for either serious or comic effect.

a. An act or instance of placing close together or side by side, esp.

for comparison or contrast. b. Side by side placement of sentences or ideas to bring about a desired effect.

a. A deliberate understatement for effect; the opposite of hyperbole. b. ironical understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of its contrary

a. A figure of speech in which a related term is substituted for the word itself.

Often the substitution is based on a material, causal, or conceptual relation between things. b. A figure of speech which is characterized by the substitution of a term naming an object closely associated with the word in mind for the word itself

a. A central or recurring image or action in a literary work that is shared by other works and may serve an overall theme. b.

A recurrent thematic element in an artistic or literary work. A dominant theme or central idea.


The emotional atmosphere experienced by the reader of a literary work. Mood is often suggested by the writer’s choice of words, by the events in the work, or by the physical setting. b. The atmosphere that pervades a literary work with the intention of evoking a certain emotion or feeling from the audience. In drama, mood may be created by sets and music as well as words; in poetry and prose, mood may be created by a combination of such elements as SETTING, VOICE, TONE and THEME.

Point of view
a. the mental position from which a story is observed or narratedb. The perspective, the vantage point from which the story is told1st person p.o.v.: character within tells the story (uses “I”)3rd person point of view: voice outside of the story tells the storyLimited 3rd person: narrator knows only one character’s internal stateOmniscient 3rd person: narrator knows all the characters’ internal states

a. The repetition of connectives or conjunctions in close succession for rhetorical effect, as in the phrase here and there and everywhere.b.

The overuse of conjunctions in close succession helps achieve rhythm, mainly by introducing continuation and slowing it. This rhetoric figure of speech can convey solemnity or even exhibit a childlike spirit

Pun/ double entendre
a. Wordplay that uses homonyms (two different words that are spelled identically) to deliver two or more meanings at the same time. b. a play on words that are identical or similar in sound but have sharply diverse meanings. Puns can have serious as well as humorous uses


A phrase or line repeated at intervals within a poem, especially at the end of a stanza. b. A group of words forming a phrase or sentence and consisting of one or more lines repeated at intervals in a poem, usually at the end of a stanza.

a. The use of any element, such as a sound, word, clause, phrase or sentence more than once. b. The simple repeating of a word, within a sentence or a poetical line, with no particular placement of the words, in order to provide emphasis


The repetition of initial stressed, consonant sounds in a series of words within a phrase or verse line. Alliteration need not reuse all initial consonantsb. The repetition of identical or similar consonant sounds, normally at the beginnings of words.

a. The repetition of vowel sounds without repeating consonants; sometimes called vowel rhyme.b. The repetition of identical or similar vowel sounds.


An audible pattern in verse established by the intervals between stressed syllables. b. The recurrence of stressed and unstressed syllables. The presence of rhythmic patterns lends both pleasure and heightened emotional response to the listener or reader.

a. The repetition of syllables, typically at the end of a verse line. Rhymed words conventionally share all sounds following the word’s last stressed syllable. b.

Close similarity or identity of sound between accented syllables occupying corresponding positions in two or more lines of verse. For a true rhyme, the vowels in the accented syllables must be preceded by different consonants, such as “fan” and “ran.”

Eye Rhyme
a. Rhymes only when spelled, not when pronounced.

b. Rhyme that appears correct from spelling, but is half-rhyme or slant rhyme from the pronunciation.

Slant rhyme
a. either the vowels or the consonants of stressed syllables are identicalb. words that come near rhyming, but do not really rhyme

Internal rhyme

Rhyme within a single line of verse. When a word from the middle of a line is rhymed with a word at the end of the line. b. Rhyme that occurs within a line, rather than at the end.

a. A pair of successive rhyming lines, usually of the same length. A couplet is “closed” when the lines form a bounded grammatical unit like a sentence.b.

A two-line stanza, usually with end-rhymes the same.

a. A resemblance in sound between two words, or an initial rhyme Consonance can also refer to shared consonants, whether in sequence (“bed” and “bad”) or reversed (“bud” and “dab”).

b. The repetition of similar consonant sounds in a group of words. The term usually refers to words in which the ending consonants are the same but the vowels that precede them are different.

a. Style in which combinations of words pleasant to the ear predominate. Its opposite is cacophony. b. soothing pleasant sounds.

a. Harsh or discordant word soundsb. A harsh, unpleasant combination of sounds or tones. It may be an unconscious flaw in the poet’s music, resulting in harshness of sound or difficulty of articulation, or it may be used consciously for effect.

a. A figure of speech in which the sound of a word imitates its sense b. The use of words whose sound suggests their meaning.

a. consonant characterized by a hissing soundb.

Of, characterized by, or producing a hissing sound like that of (s) or (sh)

a. As a general rule, the shift introduces a change in the speaker’s understanding of what he is narrating, signaling to readers that he has reached an insight.b. Turning point/ climax

a. Something in the world of the senses, including an action, that reveals or is a sign for something else, often abstract or otherworldly.b.

Something that is simultaneously itself and a sign of something else.

a. A grouping of lines separated from others in a poem. In modern free verse, the stanza, like a prose paragraph, can be used to mark a shift in mood, time, or thought.b. Usually a repeated grouping of three or more lines with the same meter and rhyme scheme.

Line breaks

The termination of the line of a poem, and the beginning of a new lineb. A line in a poem stops and ceases to extend and a new line starts from this break.


The rhythmical pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in verse. b. The repetition of a regular rhythmic unit in a line of poetry.

The meter of a poem emphasizes the musical quality of the language and often relates directly to the subject matter of the poem. Each unit of meter is known as a foot.

a. A metrical line ending at a grammatical boundary or break—such as a dash or closing parenthesis—or with punctuation such as a colon, a semicolon, or a period. A line is considered end-stopped, too, if it contains a complete phrase. b.

A line with a pause at the end. Lines that end with a period, a comma, a colon, a semicolon, an exclamation point, or a question mark are end-stopped lines.

a. The running-over of a sentence or phrase from one poetic line to the next, without terminal punctuation; the opposite of end-stoppedb. The continuation of the sense and grammatical construction from one line of poetry to the next.

a. A stop or pause in a metrical line, often marked by punctuation or by a grammatical boundary, such as a phrase or clause.

A medial caesura splits the line in equal parts. When the pause occurs toward the beginning or end of the line, it is termed, respectively, initial or terminal. b. A pause, usually near the middle of a line of verse, usually indicated by the sense of the line, and often greater than the normal pause.

a. Quality of balanced opposites that can provide form and unity to a literary work of diverse components. This sort of tension exists between the literal and metaphorical meanings of a work, between what is written and what the text implies, between the serious and the ironic, between contradictions in the text that the reader must resolve without authorial discussion, or any equilibrium resulting from the harmony of opposite tendencies.b. The interplay of conflicting elements in a piece of literature, especially a poem.


The main thought expressed by a work. In poetry, it is the abstract concept which is made concrete through its representation in person, action, and image in the work.b. In contemporary literary studies, a theme is the central topic a text treats.

a. The poet’s attitude toward the poem’s speaker, reader, and subject matter, as interpreted by the reader. Often described as a “mood” that pervades the experience of reading the poem, it is created by the poem’s vocabulary, metricalregularity or irregularity, syntax, use of figurative language, and rhyme.b.

The manner in which an author expresses his or her attitude; the intonation of the voice that expresses meaning. (Remember that the “voice” need not be that of the poet.) Tone is described by adjectives, and the possibilities are nearly endless. Often a single adjective will be enough, and tone may change from stanza to stanza or even line to line. Tone is the result of allusion, diction, figurative language, imagery, irony, symbol, syntax, and style.

a. A popular narrative song passed down orally.

In the English tradition, it usually follows a form of rhymed (abcb) quatrains alternating four-stress and three-stress lines. Folk (or traditional) ballads are anonymous and recount tragic, comic, or heroic stories with emphasis on a central dramatic event. Beginning in the Renaissance, poets have adapted the conventions of the folk ballad for their own original compositions. b.

A narrative poem, often of folk origin and intended to be sung, consisting of simple stanzas and usually having a refrain.

a. In traditional English poetry, it is often a melancholy poem that laments its subject’s death but ends in consolation. b. A sustained and formal poem setting forth the poet’s meditations upon death or another solemn theme.

a. Originally a composition meant for musical accompaniment. The term refers to a short poem in which the poet, the poet’s persona, or another speaker expresses personal feelings.

b. any short poem that presents a single speaker who expresses thoughts and feelings. Love lyrics are common, but lyric poems have also been written on subjects as different as religion and reading. Sonnets and odes are lyric poems.

a. A formal, often ceremonious lyric poem that addresses and often celebrates a person, place, thing, or idea. Its stanza forms vary. b.

A lyric poem of some length, usually of a serious or meditative nature and having an elevated style and formal stanzaic structure.

a. A 14-line poem with a variable rhyme scheme originating in Italy and brought to England by Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, earl of Surrey in the 16th century.

Literally a “little song,” the sonnet traditionally reflects upon a single sentiment, with a clarification or “turn” of thought in its concluding lines. b. Wyatt and Surrey developed the English (or Shakespearean) sonnet, which condenses the 14 lines into one stanza of three quatrains and a concluding couplet, with a rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFGG (though poets have frequently varied this scheme c. Normally a fourteen-line iambic pentameter poem.

The conventional Italian, or Petrarchan sonnet is rhymed abba, abba, cde, cde; the English, or Shakespearean, sonnet is rhymed abab, cdcd, efef, gg.

a. A French verse form consisting of five three-line stanzas and a final quatrain, with the first and third lines of the first stanza repeating alternately in the following stanzas.

These two refrain lines form the final couplet in the quatrain.b. Nineteen-line poem divided into five tercets and a final quatrain.

The villanelle uses only two rhymes which are repeated as follows: aba, aba, aba, aba, aba, abaa. Line 1 is repeated entirely to form lines 6, 12, and 18, and line 3 is repeated entirely to form lines 9, 15, and 19; thus, eight of the nineteen lines are refrain.

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