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Poetry Terms | Poetry Terminology

A glossary of all poetry terms. This is a comprehensive resource for poetry terminology with examples of the term when appropriate. Concise information about poetry terms, forms, meters and rhymes can be found here.

See also Forms of Poetry...



Abecedarian Poem

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Definition

(Or ABCEDARIUS) Type of acrostic where each line or verse begins with a successive letter of the alphabet until the end of the alphabet is reached. Sometimes known as an alphabet poem.

Example

AN A.B.C.by Geoffrey Chaucer
http://www.poetrysoup.com/famous/poem/21468/AN_ABC


Acatalectic

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Definition

A complete metrical line - as opposed to a catalectic or truncated line.

Example


Accent

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Definition

The stressed portion of a word. This can change the feeling of the poetry.

Example

N/A


Accentual Verse

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Definition

Accentual verse has a fixed number of stresses per line or stanza regardless of the number of syllables that are present. It is common in languages that are stress-timed such as English as opposed to syllabic verse, which is common in syllable-timed languages such as classical Latin. Nursery Rhymes are the most common form of Accentual verse in the English Language.

Example

The following poem, Baa Baa Black Sheep, has two stresses in each line, but a varying number of syllables.
(Bold represents stressed syllables, and the number of syllables in each line is noted)

Baa, baa, black sheep, (4)
Have you any wool? (5)
Yes sir, yes sir, (4)
Three bags full; (3)
One for the mas-ter, (5)
And one for the dame, (5)
And one for the lit-tle boy (7)
Who lives down the lane. (5)


Adonic

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Definition

Classical meter consisting of a dactyl and a spondee - as in the final line of a Sapphic.

Example


Aesthetic Movement

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Definition

1880's literary movement associated with  Walter Pater and John Ruskin who advocated that art should serve no useful purpose. The term 'art for art's sake' is synonymous with the movement.  A.C. Swinburne, Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe were followers of the movement.

Example


Afflatus

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Definition

Poetic inspiration

Example


Aide-Memoire Poem

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Definition

Poem which helps the memory e.g. 'Thirty days hath September,/April, June and November'

Example


Alcaics

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Definition

Four line stanza invented by Greek poet Alcaeus and normally employing a dactylic meter. Milton by Tennyson is a more recent example.

ALCAICS, in ancient poetry, a name given to several kinds of verse, from Alcaeus, their reputed inventor. The first kind consists of five feet, viz. a spondee or iambic, an iambic, a long syllable and two dactyles; the second of two dactyles and two trochees. Besides these, which are called dactylic Alcaics, there is another, simply styled Alcaic, consisting of an epitrite, two choriambi and a bacchius; thus—

Cur timet fla|vum Tiberim | tangere, cur | olivum?

The Alcaic ode is composed of several strophes, each consisting of four verses, the first two of which are always eleven-syllable alcaics of the first kind; the third verse is an iambic dimeter hypercatalectic consisting of nine syllables; and the fourth verse is a ten-syllable alcaic of the second kind. The following strophe is of this species, which Horace calls Alcaei minaces camenae—

 Non possidentem multa vocaveris
Recte beatum; rectius occupat
   Nomen beati, qui deorum
      Muneribus sapienter uti.
There is also a decasyllabic variety of the Alcaic metre.

The Alcaic measure was one of the most splendid inventions of Greek metrical art. In its best examples it gives an impression of wonderful vigour and spontaneity. Tennyson has attempted to reproduce it in English in his

 O mighty-mouthed inventor of harmonies,
O skilled to sing of time or eternity,
   God-gifted organ-voice of England,
       Milton, a name to resound for ages.
German is, however, the only modern literature in which alcaics
have been written with much success. They were introduced by
Klopstock, and used by Holderlin, by Voss in his translations
of Horace, by A. Kopisch and other modern German poets.

Example


Aleatory

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Definition

Aleatory means "pertaining to luck", and derives from the Latin word alea, the rolling of dice. Aleatoric, indeterminate, or chance art is that which exploits the principle of randomness.

Example

N/A


Alexandrine

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Definition

Originally a twelve syllable meter in French prosody. However, the English equivalent is the iambic hexameter - see meter. An example of alexandrine verse is Testament of Beauty by Robert Bridges.

Example


Allegory

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Definition

A poem in which the characters or descriptions convey a hidden symbolic or moral message. For example, the various knights in The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser are allegorical representations of virtues such as truth, friendship and justice.

Example


Alliteration

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Definition

Alliteration is a stylistic device, or literary technique, in which successive words (more strictly, stressed syllables) begin with the same consonant sound or letter. Alliteration is a frequent tool in poetry but it is also common in prose, particularly to highlight short phrases. Especially in poetry, it contributes to euphony of the passage, lending it a musical air. It may add a humorous effect. Related to alliteration are assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds, and consonance, the repetition of consonant sounds. Starting three or more words with the same sound.

Example

  • Round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran.
  • Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
  • The crazy crackling crops.


Allusion

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Definition

Where a poem makes reference to another poem or text. For example, the 14th line of The Prelude by William Wordsworth 'The earth was all before me' alludes to one of the final lines of Paradise Lost by John Milton 'The world was all before them'. Paradise Lost, in turn, alludes to the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis.

Example


Ambiguity

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Definition

William Empson defined ambiguity as: 'any verbal nuance, however slight, which gives room for alternative reactions to the same piece of language'. Although ambiguity is not desirable in prose, in poetry it can sometimes add extra layers of meaning. Figurative language - such as metaphors - often create ambiguity. In 1930 Empson published a critical work entitled Seven Types of Ambiguity.

Example


Amphibrachic Meter

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Definition

Classical meter consisting of three syllables per foot: one short, one long, one short. This meter is seldom used in English, however Jinny the Just by Matthew Prior is an example.

Example


Amphimacer Meter

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Definition

Another classical meter consisting of three syllables per foot, but this time: one long, one short, one long. A rare English example of this form is Tennyson's poem The Oak.

Example


Anacreontic Verse

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Definition

Verse which imitates the work of the Greek poet Anacreon who wrote lyrics in praise of wine and women. Abraham Cowley's Anacreontics are an example.

Example


Anacrusis

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Definition

In poetry, anacrusis is the lead-in syllables that precede the first full measure, while, similarly, in music, it is the note or notes (even a phrase) which precede the first downbeat in a group. In the latter sense an anacrusis is often called a pickup, pickup note, or pickup measure.

Example

In the Star Spangled Banner, the word "Oh" in the first line is an anacrusis.


Anagram

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Definition

The transposition of letters from a word or phrase to form a new word or phrase. All schoolboys know that T.S.Eliot = toilets.

Example


Anapestic

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Definition

A three syllable foot made of two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable

Example

comprehend, intervene


Anaphora

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Definition

The repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning of several consecutive sentences or verses to emphasize an image or a concept. Also called epanaphora.

Example

Mad world! Mad kings! Mad composition!
— (William Shakespeare, King John, II, i)
We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.
— (Winston Churchill)
Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer! (One people, one empire, one leader!)
— (Adolf Hitler)
What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp.
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
— (William Blake, from The Tyger)
I Have A Dream, that one day...I Have a Dream...I Have a Dream
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Anglo-Saxon

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See Old English.

Example


Anthropomorphism

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Definition

The attribution of human feelings to animals or inanimate objects e.g. Hawk Roosting by Ted Hughes. See also personification.

Example


Antibacchic

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Definition

Classical meter consisting of three syllables per foot: two long and one short.

Example


Antiphon

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Definition

Verse of a psalm or hymn which is sung or recited.

Example


Antispast

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Definition

Classical meter consisting of four syllables per foot: one short, two long, one short.

Example


Antistrophe

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Definition

The second stanza of a Pindaric ode. See ode.

Example


Antithesis

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Definition

Figure of speech where contrasting words or ideas are placed in close proximity e.g. 'Hee for God only, shee for God in him' from Milton's Paradise Lost.

Example


Antonym

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Word or phrase with the opposite meaning to another e.g. 'good' and 'bad'.

Example


Aphesis

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Definition

The loss of letters or syllables at the start of a word. Opposite of apocope.

Example


Aphorism

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Definition

Short pithy statement embodying a general truth e.g. Tennyson's 'Nature, red in tooth and claw.'

Example


Apocope

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Definition

The removal of letters or syllables at the end of a word.

Example


Aposiopesis

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Definition

Aposiopesis is the term, coined by Otto Jespersen, for the rhetorical device by which the speaker or writer deliberately stops short and leaves something unexpressed, but yet obvious, to be supplied by the imagination, giving the impression that she is unwilling or unable to continue. It often portrays being overcome with passion (fear, anger, excitement) or modesty. The ellipsis or dash is used.

Example

Quos ego—!


Apostles, the

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Definition

Intellectual society formed at Cambridge University in 1820. Members have included Alfred Tennyson, Arthur Hallam, Bertrand Russell and E.M. Forster.

Example


Apostrophe

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Definition

Poem which is directly addressed to a person or thing (often absent). An example is Wordsworth's sonnet Milton which begins: 'Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour'. NB not to be confused with an apostrophe indicating missing letters or the possessive case. Other examples of apostrophe include A Supermarket in California by Allen Ginsberg (addressed to Walt Whitman) and my own poem Invocation.

Example


Arcadia

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Definition

Originally a mountainous area in the Peloponnese; then a symbol for idyllic rural life. Virgil's Eclogues were set in Arcadia. See also pastoral.

Example


Archaic Diction

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Definition

The use of old fashioned or outdated language (Shakespearean).

Example


Archaism

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Definition

Use of obsolete or old-fashioned language e.g. 'thee', 'thou' or 'beauteous'.

Example


Assonance

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Definition

A repetition of vowel sounds within syllables with changing consonants.

Example

  • Hear the mellow wedding bells. — Edgar Allan Poe
  • Try to light the fire.
  • Rumbling thunder
  • He gave a nod to the officer with the pocket.
  • Mankind can handle most hassles.
  • Tilting at windmills

  • Asyndeton

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    Definition

    Lists of words or phrases but without conjunctions. Compare with polysyndeton.

    Example


    Aubade

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    Definition

    Poem written to celebrate the dawn e.g. The Sun Rising by John Donne.

    Example


    Augustan Poets

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    Definition

    Group of English poets including Dryden, Pope, Addison and Swift who emulated Latin poets such as Ovid, Horace and Virgil. The Roman poets were writing during the reign of emperor Augustus (27 B.C. - 14 A.D.) - hence the term 'Augustan'. See also neo-classical.

    Example


    Aureate Language

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    Definition

    Elaborate, latinate poetic diction employed by certain 15th century English and Scottish poets, including: William Dunbar, Robert Henryson, Stephen Hawes and John Lydgate.

    Example


    Awdl

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    Definition

    Welsh poetic form equivalent to an ode. There are 12 separate awdl forms including: cyhydedd hir, cyhydedd naw ban, gwawdodyn, clogyrnach, rhupunt, tawddgyrch cadwynog, cyrch a chwta, toddaid and byr a thoddaid. The awdl was regarded as the most challenging and exalted Welsh form.

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