Poetry Terms

Revised and expanded version of a list by Dr. Donna Campbell at Washington State University
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alliteration
the repetition of identical consonant sounds, most often the sounds beginning words, in close proximity. (example: nattering nabobs of negativism)
allusion
unacknowledged reference and quotations that authors assume their readers will recognize
anapest/anapestic meter
a metrical foot consisting of two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable/a metrical pattern that consists of such feet; also called "galloping meter" (example: "'Twas the Night Before Christmas")
anaphora
repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of a line throughout a work or the section of a work
antimetabole
the reversal of the same words in a grammatical structure, a form of chiasmus (example: "You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man.")
apostrophe
speaker in a poem addresses a person not present or an animal, inanimate object, or concept as though it is a person (example: "Milton! Thou shouldst be living at this hour / England has need of thee")
assonance
the repetition of identical vowel sounds in different words in close proximity (example: deep green sea)
ballad
a narrative poem composed of quatrains (iambic tetrameter alternating with iambic trimeter) rhyming x-a-x-a; may use refrains (examples: "Jackaroe," "The Long Black Veil")
blank verse
unrhymed iambic pentameter (example: Shakespeare's plays)
caesura
a short but definite pause used for effect within a line of poetry
carpe diem poetry
("seize the day") poetry concerned with the shortness of life and the need to act in or enjoy the present (example: Herrick's "To the Virgins to Make Much of Time")
chiasmus
a "crossing" or reversal of two elements
common meter or hymn measure
iambic tetrameter alternating with iambic trimeter (example: Amazing Grace)
consonance
the counterpart of assonance; the partial or total identity of consonants in words whose main vowels differ (examples: shadow, meadow; pressed, passed; sipped, supped; Owen uses this "impure rhyme" to convey the anguish of war and death)
couplet
two successive rhyming lines; couplets end the pattern of a Shakespearean sonnet
dactyl/dactylic meter
a metrical foot consisting of one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables/a metrical pattern consisting of dactyls (examples: firmaments, practical, tactical)
dactylic rhyme
rhyming words of three or more syllables in which any syllable but the last is stressed; also called triple rhyme (example: Macavity/gravity/depravity)
diction
word choice; usually used to describe the level of formality that a speaker uses
diction, formal or high
proper, elevated, elaborate, and often polysyllabic language; formerly regarded as the only type suitable for poetry
diction, informal or low
relaxed, conversational, and familiar language
diction, middle or neutral
"correct language" characterized by directness and simplicity
dimeter
poetic meter in which each line has two feet
dramatic monologue
a type of poem, derived from the theater, in which a speaker addresses an internal listener or the reader; in some dramatic monologues, especially those by Robert Browning, the speaker may reveal his or her personality in unexpected and unflattering ways
end-stopped line
a line ending in a full pause, usually indicated with a period or semicolon
enjambment (or enjambement)
a line having no end punctuation but running over to the next line
explication
a complete and detailed analysis of a work of literature, often word-by-word and line-by-line
eye rhyme
words that are pronounced differently but seem to rhyme because they are spelled identically (examples: bear/fear, dough/cough/through/bough)
foot
a measured combination of heavy and light stresses
free verse
poetry that does not have a regular meter or rhyme scheme
heptameter or septenary
poetic meter in which each line has seven feet
heroic couplet
two successive rhyming lines of iambic pentameter; the second line is usually end-stopped
hexameter
poetic meter in which each line has six feet
hyperbole
exaggeration or overstatement for effect; often ironic
iamb
a metrical foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable
iambic pentameter
meter in which each line consists of five iambs (ten syllables); the most natural and common kind of meter in English, it elevates speech to poetry
image
reference that triggers the mind to fuse together memories of sights (visual), sounds (auditory), tastes (gustatory), smells (olfactory), and touch (tactile)
imagery
the images and patterns of images throughout a work or throughout the works of a writer or group of writers
internal rhyme
exact rhyme (rather than rhyming vowel sounds, as with assonance) within a line of poetry (example: "Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary")
litotes
understatement for effect; often ironic
metaphor
a comparison between two unlike things that describes one thing as if it were something else; does not use words such as "like" or "as" for the comparison
metaphysical conceit
an elaborate and extended metaphor or simile that links two apparently unrelated fields or subjects in an unusual and surprising conjunction of ideas; commonly applied to the metaphorical language of a number of early seventeenth-century poets, particularly John Donne
meter
the number of feet within a line of traditional verse
monometer
poetic meter in which each line has one foot
octave
the first eight lines of an Italian or Petrarchan sonnet, unified by rhythm, rhyme, and topic
onomatopoeia
a blending of consonant and vowel sounds designed to imitate or suggest the activity being described (examples: buzz, slurp)
paradox
a rhetorical figure embodying a seeming contradiction that is nonetheless true
pentameter
poetic meter in which each line has five feet
personification
attributing human characteristics to nonhuman things or abstractions
Petrarchan sonnet (Italian sonnet)
a sonnet that divides into an octave (an eight-line group) and sestet (a six-line group) rhyming abba abba cdcdcd (or cdecde), with a "turning" of the subject matter between the two parts
prosody
the patterns of rhythm and sound used in poetry
Pyrrhic foot
a metrical foot consisting of two unstressed syllables
quatrain
a four-line stanza or poetic unit; in an English or Shakespearean sonnet, a group of four lines united by rhyme
refrain
repeated word or series of words in response or counterpoint to the main verse, as in a ballad
rhyme
the repetition of identical concluding syllables in different words, most often at the ends of lines
rhyme royal
a form using seven-line stanzas of iambic pentameter, with the rhyme scheme ababbcc, used by Chaucer and other medieval poets (example: Wordsworth's "Resolution and Independence")
rhyme scheme
the pattern of rhyme, usually indicated by assigning a letter of the alphabet to each rhyme at the end of a line of poetry
scan (scansion)
the process of marking beats in a poem to establish the prevailing metrical pattern; prosody, the pronunciation of a poem, is necessary for scansion
sestet
a six-line stanza or unit of poetry
Shakespearean sonnet (English sonnet)
a fourteen-line poem written in iambic pentameter, composed of three quatrains and a couplet rhyming abab cdcd efef gg; often with three arguments or images in the quatrains being resolved in the couplet
simile
a direct comparison between two dissimilar things; usually uses "like" or "as" to state the terms of the comparison, though other expressions are also possible
slant rhyme
a near rhyme in which the concluding consonant sounds are identical but not the vowels (examples: sun/noon, should/food, slim/ham)
sonnet
a closed form consisting of fourteen lines of rhyming iambic pentameter
spondee
a two-syllable foot with both syllables stressed; the opposite of a Pyrrhic foot, this foot is used for effect
stanza
a group of poetic lines corresponding to paragraphs in prose; the meters and rhymes are usually repeating or systematic
synaesthesia
a rhetorical figure that describes one sensory impression in terms of a different sense, or one perception in terms of a totally different or even opposite feeling (examples: "darkness visible," "green thought")
syntax
word order and sentence structure
trimeter
poetic meter in which each line has three feet
tetrameter
poetic meter in which each line has four feet
trochee/trochaic meter
A metrical foot consisting of one stressed syllable followed by one unstressed syllable/a metrical pattern consisting of trochees (example: "Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright")
trochaic rhyme
rhyming words of two syllables in which the first syllable is stressed; also called double rhyme (example: flower/shower)
verse
poetic language as distinct from prose language
volta
the "turning" point of a Petrarchan sonnet, usually occurring between the octave and the sestet
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