Prosody Literary terms

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Last updated: November 30, 2019
A term applied to verse which is metrically complete.

If a verse lacks one or more unaccented syllables in its final foot, it is called “catalectic.” If a verse contains an extra syllable, it is called “hypercatalectic.”

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The stress placed upon certain syllables in a line of verse. Stresses are determined by word, rhetorical, and metrical accent. Word accent refers to the natural stress pattern of the word itself. Rhetorical accent is the stress put on a word because of it’s function or importance in the sentence, and metrical accent is the stress pattern established by the meter.

1. In French, a verse of 12 syllables containing 4 (sometimes 3) accents. It is used for elevated verse such as that of classical tragedies. 2.

In English, an iambic hexameter verse is often called this.

The close repetition of consonant sounds, usually at the beginning of words, also called the “head rhyme”. Anglo-Saxon prosody was based on alliteration rather than rhyme.ex.

… dull, dark dock,….



A metrical foot of 3 syllables, consisting of one long syllable flanked by 2 short ones or, in accentual poetry of one accented syllable flanked by 2 unaccented ones.

a metrical foot of three syllables, consisting of one short syllable flanked two long or, in accentual poetry, of one unstressed syllable flanked by two stressed.

an extra unaccented syllable or group of syllables at the beginning of a verse which regularly starts with an accented syllable e.g To in the line below,…

… Whither in you bowl so free?To rake the moon from out the sea.Thomas Love Peacock “3 men of Gotham”

the second of the stanzas which make up the triad of the Pindaric ode. See ode.

the close repetition of similar vowel sounds, usually in stressed syllables. Assonance is found in each line of the following quatrain.

Twinkle twinkle little staretc.

a pause in a line of verse dictated not by metrics but by the natural rhythm of the language. There is usually a caesura in verses of 10 syllables or more, and the handling of this pause to achieve rhythmical variety is a test of the poet’s ability.

1. The close repetition of identical consonant sounds before and after different vowels, such as ‘flip-flop’ y ‘feel-fill’.

2. Some writers accept that consonance the repetition of consonant sounds at the ends of words only, as in ‘east-west’ or ‘hid-bed’. Emily Dickinson used consonance in place rhyme.

Feminine rhyme
See rhyme. A rhyme that extends over two or more syllables is feminine. (some critics do not extend the term feminine rhyme to include triple rhymes.

a group of syllables forming a metrical unit.

Most of the feet recognized in English verse contain one accented and one or two unaccented syllables.The most commonly used feet are as follows: Iamb(us), anapest, trochee, dactyl, spondee.

Free verse
called vers libre by the French, free verse lacks regular meter and line length, relying upon the natural speech rhythms upon the natural speech rhythms of the language, the cadences which result from the alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables. Though free verse has had its vogue particularly in this century, it was employed by the French poets of the 19th century trying to free themselves from the metrical regularity of the alexandrine and by English and American poets seeking greater liberty in verse structure. Used in King James translation of the Bible, (song of Solomon and the Psalms). “Leaves of Grass”

Incremental repetition
A term coined by Francis B. Gummere in “The Popular Ballard” to describe one of the important structure devices of the ballad form.

This refers not to the use of refrains but to the repetition of succeeding stanzas with increments, changes in certain key words to indicate a development of the situation. One of the commonest accompaniments to this device is the question- and – answer formula.

Leonine rhyme
That type of internal rhyme in which the word before the caesura rhymes with the concluding word. It is called from Leoninus whose Latin verses are marked by this type of rhyme. This is sometimes limited to pentameters and hexameters, as used by the Leoninus it can be extended to describe the rhymes in the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th lines of the example.

Masculine rhyme
a rhyme limited to a single terminal syllable.ex. Old Foss is the name of his cat;.

..He weareth a runcible hat.

In English verse, which is based on accent rather than quantity, the term refers to the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. The number of syllables in a lone may be fixed while the number of stresses may be fixed with variation in the number of unstressed syllables. In the most recent English, the number of both stresses and syllables is fixed.In reality, the number of stressed and unstressed varies per poem so it is not like those things you put on top of pianos.

Most commonly used: iambic, trochaic, anapestic, dactylic, spondaic.

Quantitative verse
verse, such as Classical Latin, based on quantity rather and stress. There have been attempts to write quantitative verse in English, but few have been successful.

The time needed for the pronunciation of a syllable.In Classical verse, a long syllable was one which contained a long vowel or a short plus 2+ consonants. A long = 2 short. (relationship formed based on substitution in Classical metrics.Various degrees of length.

IT is the interactions of these various stresses and lengths that male it complex.

a line or lines repeated at intervals during a poem, usually at the end of each stanza. Serves many purposes aside from helping establish the meter and the tone of the poem. It may be a nonsense line.Or it may be a line that re-establishes the lyric atmosphere at the end of the stanza.

Sometimes it becomes an ironic commentary, changing the tone as the stanzas change. See incremental repetition, repetend.

any repeated element in a poem. Sometimes this term is used as a synonym for refrain, but the two are usually distinguished. (Coleridge uses repetends In the RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER). Working them into the beginning and end of the poem.

The repetition of similar duplicate sounds at regular intervals, usually the repetition of the terminal sounds of words repeated at the ends of verse. Poets have spoken against it (E.

G. Milton). Marker signaling the end of the rhythmical unit.

In language, the stress of movements attributable to the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of prose or poetry or to the lengths of sound in quantitative verse. In verse, the rhythm is determined by the metrical pattern, whereas prose or free verse it is the effect of an arrangement of word more nearly approximating natural speech. Careful writer arranges them so that they intensify the expression of what is said.

Running rhythm
Used by Gerard Manley Hopkins in the preface to Poems (1918), the term running rhythm refers to a rhythm refers to a rhythm measured by feet of two or three syllables, aside from the imperfect feet at the beginning of the line. Each foot contains a principal access or stress, the remaining part consisting of one or two unaccented syllables called “the slack”.

Run-on line
The type of verse which continues into the following line without a grammatical break. Enjambment, the running of of such lines, is encountered frequently in English poetry.

Byron, utilizing the run-on line, defended himself in a couplet. ( I say no more than hath been said in Dante’s Verse, and by Solomon and by Cervantes)

Slack, the
In the foot of the verse the unaccented syllable or syllables. In an anapest such as contradict, the slack consists of the first two syllables.

Sprung rhythm
(Gerard Manley Hopkins Poems 1918) sprung rhythm is measured by feet consisting of from one to four syllables; however any number of unaccented syllables may be used for special effect. In a foot of sprung rhythm, there is, regardless of the number of syllables, only one stress which occurs on the initial syllable. Four kinds of feet: monosyllable, trochee, a dactyl, and a first paeon.

Lines arranged in metrical patterns; the term verse is sometimes distinguished from poetry. A single line of poetry.

Aube, or aubade
French: “dawn” (dawn song). In French medieval poetry, a song of regret, usually in dialogue form, sung by lovers who must part at dawn.

Most famous English example Romeo and Juliet, when lovers must part after their wedding night.

A narrative poem, usually simple and fairly short, originally designed to be sung. Often begin abruptly, imply the previous action, utilize simple language, tell the story tersely through dialogue and described action and make used of refrains. In Britain the folk ballad (16th and 17th centuries) often composed anonymously and handed down orally. Literary ballad makes use of its many devices and conventions.

(Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Keat’s La Belle Dame sans Merci, and Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Ballad)

A fixed verse form derived from old French poetry. In its most common form, the ballade consists of three stanzas and an envoy, a short concluding stanza often addressed to a person of importance. The meter is usually iambic of anapestic tetrameter.

Ballad stanza
A quatrain of alternating tetrameter and trimeter lines rhyming abcb

Blank verse
Described as blank, it is no more than unrhymed, the term is limited to unrhymed iambic pentameter. First used in English by (Surrey) in his translation of Vergil and appeared in the drama in Sackville and Norton’s Gorboduc later became the standard verse form of the Elizabethan theater. (Chosen by Milton for Paradise Lost)

Burns stanza
A six line stanza, aaa^4b^2a^4b^2, named after the scottish poet Robert Burns

A provencal verse, a love lyric. ( Northern Italy and Northeastern Spain, Yes Sarah I know you’re thinking about Hetalia. But calm down and finish your test)

Italian: “Song” A major section of a long poem.

Dante’s divine Comedy and Byron’s Childe Harold, for example are divided into Cantos.

A provencal or Italian lyric, sometimes designed to be sung to music, often on the subject of love. The canzone had no fixed form but consisted of a series of stanzas of from seven to twenty lines. ( Spencer’s “Epithalmon” W.H. Auden )

Carmen figuratum
Latin: “a shaped poem” the verses of which are so arranged that they form a design on the page.

When the design is on an object, such as on a cross or on an altar, it is usually the theme of the poem. (Dylan Thomas’ “Vision and Prayer and George Herbert’s “The Alter”)

Chanson de geste
French: “song of deeds”. An old French Epic form which flourished between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries ( 11th and 14th )describing the deeds of a historical or legendary hero. (Charlemagne and his knight) (Chanson de Roland) (The Epic Quest: Studies in Four Old French Chansons de Geste 1966)

The invention of Edward Clerihew Bentley, contains two couplets which humorously characterize a person whose name is one of the rhymes.

A lyric poem, common in the Renaissance, which bewails the misery of the speaker, who is often someone whose beloved is unresponsive or absent. Occasionally, however, a complaint may be humorous.

Two successive lines of verse, usually rhymed and of the same meter.

Crown of sonnets
A poem comprising seven sonnets, which are interlinked.

The final line of each stanza is also the first line of the next. The last line of the seventh sonnet is also the first line of the opening sonnet.

A term used by Gerard Manly Hopkins in the preface to Poems (1918) to describe a shortened form of the sonnet, which he invented. Instead of the traditional fourteen lines, he reduced the number to ten and a half, divided into two stanzas, one of six lines, the other of four, with a “half-line tailpiece.”

Dramatic monologue
A poem consisting of the words of a single character who reveals in his speech his own nature and the dramatic situation. Unlike the stage soliloquy, in which place and time have been previously established and during which the character is alone, the dramatic monologue itself reveals place, time, and the identities of the characters. Called a “dramatic lyric”, by Browning, who brought the form to its highest development, the dramatic monologue discloses the psychology of the speaker at a significant moment.

From Greek: “selection.” Originally a short poem of a section of a longer one. Later, the term was applied to the bucolic or pastoral poems of Vergil. In the Renaissance it came to designate any verse in dialogue on pastoral themes, such as Spenser’s ‘Shepheardes Calender’. By the eighteenth century, when town eclogues appeared, the term referred simply to the form. In such modern poems as Frost’s “Build Soil” and MacNeices’s “Eclogue from Iceland,” as well as Auden’s “Age of Anxiety,” the eclogue has openly become a vehicle for the poet’s political and social ideas.

From Greek: elegeia, “lament.

” In Greek and Roman literature, any poem using the elegiac couplet, often on such subjects as love and war as well as death. Since the sixteenth century, however, the term has designated a dignified poem mourning the death of an individual or of all men. A specific subtype is the pastoral elegy, originated by the Sicilian Greek poets and exemplified in English poems. The poets and his subjects are spoken of as shepherds or goatherds, and the setting is the Classical pastoral world.

The nymphs, shepherds, and other inhabitants of this world join in mourning, but the poem usually ends peacefully or even joyfully.

An extended narrative poem, exalted in style and heroic in theme. Early or “primary” epics, such as Iliad and Odyssey, are written versions, often anonymous, of the oral legends of a tribe or nation. “Literary” epics, such as Vergil’s Aeneid, are later imitations of early epics. The term epic is also applied to a number of poems which do not observe all the conventions established by Homer.

These conventions are followed by writers of epic with varying degrees of strictness. The poet begins by announcing his theme, invoking the aid of a muse, and asking her an epic question, with the reply to which the story begins. He then launches his action in the middle of things. This action concerns a hero, a man of stature and significance.

Greek: “at the bridal chamber.” A poem or song, solemn or ribald, to be recited or sung outside the bridal chamber. Derived from the Greek poets and perfected by the Roman poet Catullus, the epithalamion was widely used in sixteen- and seventeenth-century England.

From Latin: georgicus, “agricultural.” A poem didactic in purpose and precise in its description of rustic life. The most important work in this tradition is Vergil’s Georgics.

The two primary subjects of georgic poems are descriptions of rustic occupations and of nature. Generally, these poems instruct readers in such occupations as farming, sheep shearing, or hunting. Such a poem consists in giving plain and direct instructions. Sometimes, however, georgics digress into such subjects as folklore and mythology. Whereas traditional pastoral poetry depicts a stylized, artificial world of singing and dancing shepherds, the georgic depicts the dignity of rustic labor.

An unrhymed Japanese poem, usually consisting of seventeen jion (Japanese symbol-sounds), which records the essence of a moment keenly perceived, usually linking nature to human nature. Though there is no fixed form for Japanese haiku, foreign adaptations, particularly those developed by American poets, have usually consisted of three lines of five, seven, five syllables. Seventeen syllables is the norm in a English language haiku, but it frequently contains fewer than this number though rarely more.

Hokku, an old Japanese word applicable to more than one kind of verse and a synonym of haiku, is obsolete in Japan as well as in United states today.

Heroic couplet
A pair of rhymed iambic pentameter lines. The heroic couplet first appeared in English in the verse of Chaucer and has, though varying in popularity, remained in continuous use. In the Neoclassic writers, for whom the heroic couplet was the dominant form, there is usually a pause at the end of the first line and the termination of a syntactical unit at the end of the second. Such a unit is called a “closed heroic couplet.

” The most skillful exponent of this form was Alexander Pope.

Greek: hymnos, a song praising heroes or the gods. In religious practice, any songs in praise of God, except psalms, may be called “hymns.” By extension, a literary hymn is any song of praise, either serious or humorous.

A short lyrical poem depicting rural or pastoral life. Such verse frequently contains conventional, idealized descriptions of the simple life of the shepherd.

Begun by many Classical poets, poetry of this kind has been called pastoral. However, the pastoral idyll differs from the pastoral elegy in that it avoids a mournful tone. In the Classical writers, the idyll and the eclogue contained similar material , though in the Renaissance and in modern times, the latter is often used for social and political satire. The Renaissance lyricists carried on the tradition of the idyll by writing of the tranquility of nature, the drowsiness of contented sheep, and the joyousness of gamboling swains. Later writers, tiring of the artificiality of the pastoral idyll, attempted to bring other material to the form.

In later usage, the term idyll has been extended far beyond traditional limits.

In medieval French literature, tales of romance and adventure composed in octosyllabic couplets. The lais of Marie de France, who wrote at the court of Henry II during the latter part of the twelfth century, were said to be based upon Celtic legends as sung by the minstrels of Brittany.

A type of light verse. The limterick, one of the few fixed forms to become genuinely popular in English, consists of five anapestic lines rhyming aabba. The first, second, and fifth lines are trimeter and the third and fourth dimeter, though these two may be printed as a single line with internal rhyme.

Miltonic sonnet
A form, introduced by Milton, which retains the octave rhyme scheme of the Petrarchan sonnet, abbaabba, but which does not have any pause or turn in the meaning at the beginning of the sestet or an invariable rhyme scheme within it.

Mock epic
Another form of burlesque, which renders a trivial subject ridiculous by treating it with the elaborate and dignified devices of the epic.

In English, a lyric poem of some length, serious in subject and dignified in style.

The term, now loosely used, has lost any necessary reference to the odes of the Greek poet Pindar, to whom the form is usually traced. Originally an ode was a choral song to be sung and danced at a public occasion, such as the celebration of a victory in the Olympic games. The stanzas were arranged in groups of three.

The strophe was sung while the chorus moved in one direction, the antistrophe, which had the same metrical form, while it moved in another, and the epode, which had a different form, as it stood still. Pindaric odes in English are rare.

Ottava rima
In English, a stanza consisting of eight lines in iambic pentameter rhymed abababcc.

Used by such noted writers as Boccaccio, Pulci, Tasso, it was a favored stanza for narrative and epic verse.

A term that covers a variety of literary forms. The only consistent characteristic of pastoral literature is that it concerns country life.

Petratchan sonnet
A poem of fourteen lines divided into two parts: the first eight lines called the octave, or octet, rhyme abbaabba; the remaining six lines, or sestet, usually rhyme cdecde. The rhyme scheme of the sestet admits some variation but there are never more than a total of five rhymes in the poem.

The octave generally contains the “problem” or theme which the sonnet will develop. Sometimes, an expression of indignation, desire, or doubt may occur in the opening lines which will be resolved in the sestet. Originating in Italy in te thirteenth century, the Italian sonnet, as it is sometimes called, was brought to its fullest development by Petrarch.

Rhyme royal
A seven-line stanza in iambic pentameter with the rhyme scheme ababbcc. The term has been associated with King James I of Scotland, who himself used this stanza form. Others, however, had used it before him, among them Chaucer in the Parliament of Fowls. Sometimes this stanzaic form is called the Chaucerian stanza.

One of the French fixed verse forms which is, along with the rondel and roundel, characterized by a refrain and the use of only two rhymes.

In the rondeau, there are thirteen lines (fifteen if the refrains are counted as lines), usually of eight syllables, arranged in two five-line stanzas separated by a three-line stanza. The refrain, which is the first half of the opening line, is repeated at the ends of the second and third stanzas. The rhyme scheme, with “R” as refrain, is aabba aabR aabbaR.

One of the French fixed forms of verse, the rondel consists of thirteen lines )fourteen if the second line of the refrain is repeated at the end) divided into three stanzas. The first two lines are the same as the seventh and eighth and are duplicated again in the thirteenth and fourteenth (if it appears).

The scheme is abba, abab, abbaa(b).

Although this term is sometimes used as a synonym for both rondeau and rondel, it is often limited to a variation on the rondeau developed by Swinburne. The Swinburne roundel consists of three stanzas of three lines each on two rhymes. At the end of the first and third stanzas is a refrain consisting of the first part of the first line, which may rhyme with the second line.

From Arabic: rubai, “quatrain.

” A collection fo four-line stanzas, or quatrains, as in FitzGerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

One of the more complicated of the French fixed forms of verse, the sestina originated in medieval Provence. It has six unrhymed stanzas, in which the terminal words of each line are repeated in varying orders, followed by a tercet, which may include three of the terminal words or all six, used two to a line.

Shakespearean sonnet
A poem of fourteen lines in iambic pentameter divided into three quatrains and a concluding couplet, also called the English sonnet. The rhyme scheme is general abab, cdcd, efef, gg, or abba, cddc, effe, gg. Developed by Sit Thomas Wyatt and the Earl of Surrey during the first half of the sixteenth century, the Shakespearean sonnet derives its name from its greatest practitioner. Like many other English sonneteers, Shakespeare used the final couplet to express the central theme of the poem.

Skeltonic verse
A rough, doggerel-like verse by, or in the manner of, John Skelton. Skelton’s verse, called “tumbling verse” by James VI of Scotland, is composed, for the most part, in short lines with two or three accents and an indefinite number of syllables. These lines rhymed in irregular groups.

A verse form containing fourteen lines, in English usually iambic pentameter, and a complicated rhyme scheme. The sonnet, developed in Italy in the early thirteenth century, was one of the favorite forms of Dante and Petrarch, whose sequence of sonnets to the lady whom he called Laura established the conventions of much Renaissance love poetry.

In the first part of the sixteenth century, the form appeared in English in the work of Sir Thomas Wyatt. Later developed by the Earl of Surrey, it was used by most of the major Elizabethan poets. After Milton, the form ceased for a time to be popular but was revived by the romantics and has been much used since.

Spenserian sonnet
A sonnet whose rhyme is abab bcbc cdcd ee. Developed by the Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser and also called the link sonnet, it has the epigrammatic final couplet of the suual Shakespearean sonnet, and often contains no break between the octave and sestet.

Spenserian stanza
A stanza of nine iambic lines rhymed ababbcbcc. The first eight lines are pentameter, but a sixth foot is added to the final line, making that line an alexandrine. Created by Edmund Spenser for The Faerie Queene, the Spenserian stanza was little used in the seventeenth century and in the early part of the eighteenth. Interest in the form revived in the later eighteenth century, and it was utilized for significant Romantic poems.

Tail-thyme stanza
A unit of verse in which a short line, following a group of longer ones, rhymes with a preceding short line.

Also called by the French term rime couee, the rail-rhyme stanza has a number of variants, but a common form is aa4b3cc4b3. Sometimes the tail rhyme is used to connect succeeding stanzas.

Terza rima
A series of interlocking tercets in which the second line of each one rhymes with the first and third lines of the one succeeding: aba, bcb, cdc, etc. Italian in origin, the form was used by Dante in The Divine Comedy as well as by Petrarch and Boccaccio. It was introduced into English by Sir Thomas Wyatt in the sixteenth century but, though used (with variations) by such poets as Shelley, Browning, and Auden, has not become genuinely popular.

One of the French fixed forms of verse, used by English poets, especially the Parnassians, in the late nineteenth century. Containing only two rhymes, the triolet has a total of eight lines: the first two are repeated as the last two; the fourth is the same as the first.

The rhyme scheme is thus abaaabab.

One of the French fixed forms. Originally pastoral in subject matter (the name derives from villa, a farm or country house), it is often used for light verse.

There are five tercets followed by a quatrain, all on two rhymes. The opening line is repeated at the ends of tercets two and four; the final line of the first tercet concludes the third and fifth. The two refrain lines are repeated at the end of the quatrain.

A name applied to either of two verse forms, neither of which is strictly fixed, derived from old French poetry.

One, used for a poem of limited length, has only two rhymes; the first and second lines appear alternately as refrains. The other has an indefinite number of stanzas, each having two rhymes, one rhyme in long lines, the other in short. The short lines of one stanza provide the rhyme for the long lines of the next, the short lines of the last stanza rhyming with the long lines of the first. Neither form is common in English.

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