Poetry Terminology

derogatory term used to describe poetry whose subject is trite and whose rhythm and sounds are monotonously heavy-handed

a figure of speech that makes a comparison between two unlike things, without using the word like or as.

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Metaphors assert the identity of dissimilar things.

a prose restatement of the central ideas of a poem, in your own language.

the voice used by an author to tell a story or speak a poem. The speaker is often a created identity, and should not automatically be equated with the author’s self.

a word or phrase made from the letters of another word or phrase, as “heart” is an anagram of “earth.

7. Verse
a generic term used to describe poetic lines composed in a measured rhythmical pattern that are often, but not necessarily, rhymed.

8. Lyric
a type of brief poem that expresses the personal emotions and thoughts of a single speaker.

9. Narrative poem
A poem that tells a story. A narrative poem may be short or long, and the story it relates may be simple or complex.



a long narrative poem, told in a formal, elevated style that focuses on a serious subject and chronicles heroic deeds and events important to a culture or nation.

12. Stock responses
predictable, conventional reactions to language, characters, symbols or situations. The flag, motherhood, puppies, God, and peace are common objects used to elicit stock responses from unsophisticated audiences

13. Sentimentality
a pejorative term used to describe the effort by an author to induce emotional responses in the reader that exceed what the situation warrants. – especially pertains to such emotions as pathos and sympathy; it cons readers into falling for the mass murderer who is devoted to stray cats, and it requires that readers do not examine such illogical responses.

14. Diction
A writer’s choice of words, phrases, sentence structures, and figurative language, which combine to help create meaning.

15. Poetic diction
refers to the way poets sometimes employ an elevated diction that deviates significantly from the common speech and writing of their time, choosing words for their supposedly inherent poetic qualities.

16. Formal diction
consists of a dignified, impersonal, and elevated use of language; it follows the rules of syntax exactly and is often characterized by complex words and lofty tone.

Middle diction
maintains correct language usage, but is less elevated than formal diction; it reflects the way most educated people speak.

18. Informal diction
represents the plain language of everyday use, and often includes idiomatic expressions, slang, contractions, and many simple, common words.

19. Colloquially
refers to a type of informal diction that reflects casual, conversational language and often includes slang expressions

22. denotation
the dictionary meaning of a word



associations and implications that go beyond the literal meaning of a word, which derive from how the word has been commonly used and the associations people make with it.

24. Persona
literally, a persona is a mask.

In literature, a persona is a speaker created by a writer to tell a story or to speak in a poem. – Not a character in a story or narrative, nor does a persona necessarily directly reflect the author’s personal voice.

25. Ambiguity
allows for two or more simultaneous interpretations of a word, phrase, action, or situation, all of which can be supported by the context of a work.

26. Syntax
the ordering of words into meaningful verbal patters such as phrases, clauses, and sentences. Poets often manipulate syntax, changing conventional word order, to place certain emphasis on particular words

27. Tone
The author’s implicit attitude toward the reader or the people, places, and events in a work as revealed by the elements of the author’s style.

28. Carpe diem
The Latin phrase meaning “seize the day.” This is a very common literary theme, especially in lyric poetry, which emphasizes that life is short, time is fleeting, and that one should make the most of present pleasures

29. Allusion
A brief reference to a person, place, thing, event, or idea in history or literature.

32. Implied metaphor
a more subtle comparison; the terms being compared are not so specifically explained.

Extended metaphor
An extended comparison in which part or the entire poem consists of a series of related metaphors

Controlling metaphor
Comparisons that are at work throughout an entire poem

A kind of metaphor in which a part of something is used to signify the whole, as when a gossip is called a “wagging tongue,” or when ten ships are called “ten sails.” Sometimes, synecdoche refers to the whole being used to signify the part, as in the phrase, “Boston won the baseball game.

A type of metaphor in which something closely associated with a subject is substituted for it. In this way, we speak of the “silver screen” to mean motion pictures and “the crown” to stand for the king.

39. Apostrophe
An address, either to someone who is absent and therefore cannot hear the speaker or to something nonhuman that cannot comprehend

43. Paradox
statement that initially appears to be contradictory but then, on closer inspection, turns out to make sense

47. Didactic poetry
Poetry designed to teach an ethical, moral, or religious lesson

49. Cosmic irony
occurs when a writer uses God, destiny, or fate to dash the hopes and expectations of a character or of humankind in general



Traditionally, a ballad is a song, transmitted orally from generation to generation, that tells a story and that eventually is written down. As such, ballads usually cannot be traced to a particular author or group or authors. Typically, ballads are dramatic, condensed, and impersonal narratives

51. Literary ballad
A narrative poem that is written in deliberate imitation of the language, form, and spirit of the traditional ballad.

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