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Glossary of Poetry Terms
Types and Forms:
Lyric: short poem expressing speaker’s thoughts and emotions, such as grief, happiness
or melancholy
Narrative: a recital of a story or account of events, experiences or the like, whether true
or fictitious, usually in chronological order.
Dramatic: for example, a dramatic monologue, usually recited in a play by a character
Free Verse: poetry that uses natural rhythmic cadences, recurrent image patterns and
stressed and unstressed syllables, rather than any set metrical scheme. It may be rhymed
or unrhymed.
Sonnet: a lyric poem in a single stanza consisting of fourteen iambic pentameter lines
linked by an intricate rhyme scheme. The most classic definition of the literary term
sonnet, either in Italianate (Petrarchan) form or Shakespearian form, involves a statement
of problem or question posed in the first segment (the octave) concerning love, death, or
religion. The second portion of the poem (sestet) either answers the question or reverts
the problem back to the reader to resolve. In either case the form involves an issue and a
Villanelle: with its complex pattern of repetition and rhyme, has become a significant
form in English only in the past hundred years or so, but of the fixed forms, it probably
now ranks second only to the sonnet. The form requires only two rhyme sounds, and its
nineteen lines are divided into five three-line stanzas (tercets) and a four-line concluding
quatrain. The first and third lines of the first stanza serve as refrain lines entwined with
the rhyme pattern - the first line repeated at the ends of the second and fourth stanzas,
and the third repeated at the ends of the third and fifth stanzas. In the concluding stanza,
the refrains are repeated as lines 18 and 19. We can express the pattern thus: A1bA2,
abA1, abA2, abA1, abA2, abA1A2.
Ballad: A short narrative poem with stanzas of two or four lines and usually a refrain.
The story of a ballad can originate from a wide range of subject matter but most
frequently deals with folk-lore or popular legends. They are written in straight-forward
verse, seldom with detail, but always with graphic simplicity and force. Most ballads are
suitable for singing and, while sometimes varied in practice, are generally written in
ballad meter, i.e., alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter, with the last
words of the second and fourth lines rhyming.
Ode: A poem praising and glorifying a person, place or thing
Elegy: A poem or song composed especially as a lament for a deceased person.
Stanzas: a division of a poem containing one or more lines, separated by spacing from
other like units; a group of lines standing together, apart from other such groups. Stanzas
are defined according to the number of lines they contain, as in the terms couplet,
triplet, quatrain, quintet, cinquain, sestet, sextet, seplet, octet.
Refrain: a phrase or verse recurring at intervals in a poem, especially at the end of a
Word inversions: switches normal sentence structure, so that the subject might come
after the verb, instead of before, as usual.
Enjambment: the running on of the thought from one line, couplet or stanza to the next
without a syntactical break.
Anaphora: The deliberate repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of several
successive verses, clauses or paragraphs.
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its
creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the
sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat
of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of
freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will
not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.”
Rhyme: the repetition of identical or similar accented sound or sounds.
End and Internal: end is when the rhyme occurs at the ends of lines; internal rhyme is
when at least one rhyme occurs within the line
Rhyme Scheme: the pattern in which the rhyme occurs in the poem
Slant/Near rhymes: repetition of similar sounds instead of identical sounds or the
coupling of accented-unaccented sounds that would be perfect rhymes if they were both
Alliteration: repetition of sounds or syllables, especially initial consonants
Assonance: the repetition of vowel sounds, as in the words scream/beach. A phonetic
device that serves to unify poetry
Consonance: the repetition of consonant sounds, as in the words leaves/lives. Related to
rhyme in that it involves degrees of identity of sound and serves to unify a poem.
Onomatopoeia: formation of words imitating the sound of the object or the action
expressed, as in buzz, hiss, clack, bang.
Meter: measurement used to determine the rhythm of a line, insofar as it is established by the
regular or almost regular recurrence of accented syllables. Meter is based on units called feet,
each foot usually being a set relationship between one accented syllable and one or two
unaccented syllables.
Scansion: A system for determining the meter of a piece of poetry. Detailed scansion is
accomplished by marking each syllable according to whether it is accented or not and
analyzing the patterns.
Iamb: a metrical foot consisting of two syllables, the first unaccented, the second
accented. The word betray is an iamb. A line made up of 5 iambs, for example, is called
iambic pentameter, which is used a great deal in Shakespeare’s plays.
Trochee: a metrical foot consisting of two syllables, the first accented and the second
unaccented. The word careful is a trochee.
Anapest: a metrical foot consisting of three syllables, the first two unaccented and the
third accented. The word cigarette is an anapest.
Dactyl: a metrical foot consisting of three syllable, the first accented and the second and
third unaccented. The word wonderful is a dactyl.
Imagery: creating pictures for the senses; using words to form mental images, figures or
likenesses of things, or of such images collectively. (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory, gustatory)
Tone is the essence of what is being written, and is used to convey or provoke anger, hurt, joy,
apprehension, etc, depending on the poet's goal. Importantly, tone should create a mood without
telling the reader what to feel. Tone may be characterized as serious or ironic, sad or happy,
private or public, angry or affectionate, bitter or nostalgic, or any other attitudes and feelings that
human beings experience. Poets wanting to create a tone should show rather than tell.
Figures of Speech:
Metaphor: an implied comparison, identifying the two things compared with each other.
Melvin is such a pig.
Simile: a comparison uses “like” or “as.” Melvin eats like a pig.
Personification: making an inanimate object act like a person or animal. “The fog crept
in on little cat feet.”
Hyperbole: an intentional exaggeration. “My date last night was the most beautiful girl in
the world.”
Allusion: A cross reference to another work of art; an incidental mention of something
either directly or by implication. “My boyfriend dances like King Kong.”
Synecdoche: giving the part, to represent the whole. “Have you got your wheels, man?”
Metonymy: Another form of metaphor, in which a closely associated object is substituted
for the object or idea in mind.
Examples: The pen is mightier than the sword
The pen is an attribute of thoughts that are written with a pen; the sword is an attribute of
military action
Metonymy also implies time, cause and effect, a chain of successive events.
Example: a dark stormy night implies something bad is going to happen.
Paradox: something that at first seems to contradict itself. “A little learning is a
dangerous thing.”
Symbolism: something represents a completely different thing or idea. The Statue of
Liberty represents freedom.
Antithesis: Juxtaposition of opposites. Saying the opposite of what you really mean, for
effect. After your brother breaks your mother’s favorite vase, by fooling around in the
living room: “That was a cool move, man.”
Apostrophe: addressing an absent person, a personified inanimate being or an
abstraction, as though present. The term is derived from a Greek word meaning “a
turning away,” and this sense is maintained when a narrative or dramatic thread is broken
in order to digress by speaking directly to someone not there, e.g., “Envy, be silent and
attend!”—Alexander Pope, “On a Certain Lady at Court.” In these lines from John
Donne's poem "The Sun Rising" the poet scolds the sun for interrupting his nighttime
Busy old fool, unruly sun,
Why dost thou thus,
windows, and through curtains call on us?