Poetry Terms/Devices

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Last updated: December 12, 2019

Alliteration
The repetition of two or more consonant sounds in successive words in a line of verse or prose. It can be used at the beginning of words (“cool cats”) or internally on stressed syllables (“In kitchen cups concupiscent curds”).

Apostrophe
A direct address to someone or something. It often addresses something not ordinarily spoken to. It may address an inanimate object, a dead or absent person, an abstract thing, or a spirit.

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It is often used to provide a speaker with means to articulate thoughts aloud. (eg. “O Mountain!”)

Assonance
The repetition of two or more vowel sounds in successive words, which creates a kind of rhyme.It may be used to focus attention on key words or concepts; it also helps make a phrase or line more memorable.

It can be used initially (“all the awful auguries”) or internally (“white lilacs”).

Blank Verse
The most common and well-known meter of unrhymed poetry in English. It contains five iambic feet per line and is never rhymed.

Conceit
A poetic device using elaborate comparisons, such as equating a loved one with the graces and beauties of the world.

Connotation
An association or additional meaning that a word, image, or phrase may carry, apart from its literal denotation or dictionary definition.

A word picks up connotations from all the uses to which it has been put in the past.

Consonance
A kind of rhyme in which the linked words share similar consonant sounds but different vowel sounds, as in reason and raisin, mink and monk.

Couplet
A two-line stanza in poetry, usually rhymed, which tends to have lines of equal length. Shakespeare’s sonnets were famous for ending with this: “Give my love fame faster than Time wastes life; / So thou prevent’st his scythe and crooked knife.”

Denotation
The literal, dictionary meaning of a word.

Dramatic Irony
A special kind of suspenseful expectation, when the audience or reader understands the implication and meaning of a situation onstage and foresees the oncoming disaster (in tragedy) or triumph (in comedy) but the character does not.

End Rhyme
Rhyme that occurs at the ends of lines, rather than within them (as internal rhyme does). It is the most common kind of rhyme in English-language poetry.

Foot
The unit of measurement in metrical poetry. Different meters are identified by the pattern and order of stressed and unstressed syllables in their foot, usually containing two or three syllables, with one syllable accented.

Free Verse
It describes poetry that organizes its lines without meter. It may be rhymed, but it usually is not.

Hyperbole (Overstatement)
Exaggeration used to emphasize a point

Iambic Pentameter
The most common meter in English verse-five iambic feet per line. Many fixed forms, such as the sonnet and heroic couplets, are written in iambic pentameter. Unrhymed iambic pentameter is called blank verse.

Image
A word or series of words that refers to any sensory experience (usually sight, although also sound, sell, touch, or taste). An image is a direct or literal recreation of physical experience and adds immediacy to literary language.

Imagery
The collective set of images in a poem or other literary work.

Irony
A literary device in which a discrepancy of meaning is masked beneath the surface of the language. Irony is present when a writer says one thing but means something quite the opposite. The two major types are verbal (in which the discrepancy is contained in words) and situational (in which the discrepancy exists when something is about to happen to a character or characters who expect the opposite outcome).

Lyric
A short poem expressing the thoughts and feelings of a single speaker.

Often written in the first person, lyric poetry traditionally has a songlike immediacy and emotional force.

Metaphor
A statement that one thing is something else, which, in a literal sense, it is not. By asserting that a thing is something else, a metaphor creates a close association between the two entities and usually underscores some important similarity between them.

Meter
A recurrent, regular, rhythmic pattern in verse. When stresses recur at fixed intervals, the result is meter. Traditionally, meter has been the basic organizational device of world poetry. There are many existing meters, each identified by the different patterns of recurring sounds.

Metonymy
Figure of speech in which the name of a thing is substituted for that of another closely associated with it. For instance, in saying, “The White House decided,” one could mean that the president decided.

Onomatopoeia
A literary device that attempts to represent a thing or action by the word that imitates the sound associated with it (eg, crash, bang, pitter-patter)

Oxymoron
conjoining contradictory terms (as in ‘deafening silence’)

Persona
Latin for “mask.” A fictitious character created by an author to be the speaker of a poem, story, or novel. A persona is always the narrator of the work and not merely a character in it.

Personification
A figure of speech in which a thing, an animal, or an abstract term is endowed with human characteristics. Personification allows an author to dramatize the nonhuman world in tangibly human terms.

Simile
A comparison of two things, indicated by some connective, usually like, as, than, or a verb such as resembles. A simile usually compares two things that initially seem unlike but are shown to have a significant resemblance. (ie, Cool as a Cucumber)

Sonnet
From the Italian sonnetto: “little song.” A traditional and widely used verse form, especially popular for love poetry. The sonnet is a fixed form of fourteen lines, traditionally written in iambic pentameter, usually made up of an octave (the first eight lines) and a concluding sestet (six lines). Most sonnet turn, or shift in tone or focus, after the first eight lines, although the placement may vary.

Stanza
From the Italian, meaning “stopping-place” or “room.” A recurring pattern of two or more lines of verse, poetry’s equivalent to the paragraph in prose. The stanza is the basic organizational principle of most formal poetry.

Synecdoche
The use of a significant part of a thing to stand for the whole of it or vice versa. To say wheels for car or rhyme for poetry are examples of synecdoche.

Tone
The attitude toward a subject conveyed in a literary work. No single stylistic device creates tone; it is the net result of the various elements an author brings to creating the work’s feeling and manner. Tone may be playful, sarcastic, ironic, sad, solemn, or any other possible attitude.

A writers tone plays an important role in establishing the reader’s relationship to the characters or ideas presented in a literary work.

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