Poetry Terms -
c. This is a comprehensive resource of poetry terms beginning with the letter
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The natural rhythm of speech - as opposed to the rhythm of meter.
A caesura, in poetry, is an audible pause that breaks up a line of verse. This may come in the form of any sort of punctuation which causes a pause in speech; such as a comma; semicolon; full stop etc. It is also used in musical notation as a complete cessation of musical time.
Arma virumque cano, || Troiae qui primus ab oris
("I sing of arms and the man, who first from the shores of Troy. . .")
Cynthia prima fuit; || Cynthia finis erit.
("Cynthia was the first; Cynthia will be the last" — Horace)
Hwæt! we Gar-Dena || on geardagum
("Lo! we Spear-Danes, in days of yore. . .")
Group of poets including Lawrence Durrell and Keith Douglas who were based in North Africa during World War II.
Body of work considered to represent the highest literary standards.
The subdivision of a long narrative poem e.g. in The Divine Comedy by Dante. Spenser was the first English poet to use cantos. The Cantos is a long (some would say too long) poem by Ezra Pound.
Latin for 'seize the day'. Originally a phrase taken from an ode by Horace, but more recently synonymous with the film Dead Poets Society starring Robin Williams.
(or Catalexis) Where one or more unstressed syllables are missing from the end of a regular metrical line. Usually employed in trochaic or dactylic verse to avoid monotony. The terms derive from the Greek for 'stopping short'. Sometimes referred to as a truncated line. See acatalectic.
Verse which lists people, places, things or ideas e.g. Contemporary Poets of the English Language by Anthony Thwaite.
Much disputed term used by Aristotle in his Poetics where he suggests that tragedy should purge the emotions of pity and fear and, hence, lead to a catharsis.
Group of poets including Robert Herrick, Thomas Carew, Sir John Suckling and Richard Lovelace who were all supporters of Charles I. Although not a formal group they were all influenced by Ben Jonson and wrote highly crafted, witty lyrics in praise of wine, women and song. See also Tribe of Ben.
Originally an anthology of stories by W.B.Yeats, but then adopted as a generic term for literature concerning Irish folk-lore and mysticism.
A patchwork poem composed of quotations from other authors. A famous example is Cento Nuptialus by Decimus Magnus Ausonius.
The linking together of stanzas by carrying a rhyme over from one stanza to the next.
A number of verse forms use chain rhyme as an integral part of their structures. One example is terza rima, which is written in tercets with a rhyming pattern a-b-a, b-c-b, c-d-c. Another is the virelai ancien, which rhymes a-a-b-a-a-b, b-b-c-b-b-c, c-c-d-c-c-d.
Other verse forms may also use chain rhyme. For instance, quatrains can be written to the following pattern: a-a-b-a, b-b-c-b, c-c-d-c.
One of a group of medieval French epic poems.
Collection of troubadour poems.
Russian folksong usually consisting of two, four or six lines - although the quatrain is the most common. They can be sung solo or accompanied by balalaika.
See rhyme royal.
Stopgap word used by a poet to furnish the required number of syllables in a metrical line.
Figure of speech where the second half of a phrase reverses the order of the first half e.g. Samuel Johnson's "For we that live to please, must please to live."
Classical meter consisting of four syllables per foot: one long, two short and one long. Choriambic meter has its origins in Greek poetry and is very rarely used in English.
Part of a poem or song that is repeated after each verse. See refrain.
Pre-Christian Roman and Greek poets such as Homer, Horace, Virgil, Ovid etc. Classicism is characterised by a sense of formality and restraint. See also neo-classicism. The romantic movement was a reaction against the constraints of neo-classicism.
An overused word or phrase.
I'm so hungry I could eat a horse.
Welsh syllabic verse form. See awdl.
The careful and vigorous examination of literary texts; a technique advocated by the New Critics.
Closed syllables are syllables that have at least one consonant following the vowel. The most common closed syllable is the CVC syllable.
Term coined by Blackwood's Magazine in 1817 to describe poets of humble London origin such as Leigh Hunt and John Keats. Keats was described as a man 'who had left a decent calling (pharmacy) for the melancholy trade of Cockney-poetry'.
The tail, tag, outro, envoi or concluding passage of a piece of writing.
Quatrain featuring alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter and an a-b-a-b rhyming scheme. Many hymns are written in common measure. See Light Shining Out of Darkness by Cowper. See also ballad.
Poetic form derived from the Latin in which poets bewail social evils or the vicissitudes of life e.g. Complaint to his Purse by Geoffrey Chaucer.
An elaborate and complicated metaphor. An early exponent of conceits was the 14th Century Italian poet Petrarch. The Petrarchan conceit was imitated by many Elizabethan poets including Shakespeare. Conceits were also used extensively by the metaphysical poets. John Donne famously compared two lovers to a pair of compasses in his poem A Valediction: forbidding Mourning.
A 20th century term used to describe poetry that uses intimate material from the poet’s life. Confessional poetry is normally written using the 'I' form. The American poet Robert Lowell pioneered confessional verse with his 1959 collection Life Studies.
The emotional response evoked by a word or the associations called up by a word that goes beyond its dictionary meaning.
Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night" includes intensely connotative language, as in these lines:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
A stylistic device, often used in poetry. It is the repetition of consonant sounds in a short sequence of words, for example, the "t" sound in "Is it blunt and flat?" Alliteration differs from consonance insofar as alliteration requires the repeated consonant sound to be at the beginning of each word, where in consonance it is anywhere within the word, although often at the end. In half rhyme, the terminal consonant sound is repeated. A special species of consonance is using a series of sibilant sounds (/s/ and /sh/ for example); this is sometimes known simply as sibilance.
All the letters of the alphabet except the vowels a, e, i, o and u.
The subject matter of a poem - as opposed to the form.
Where a word at the end of a line rhymes with a word in the middle of the next/previous line.
Poetry that seeks to emulate Picasso's 'sum of destructions' e.g. the work of the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire.
Technique where a poet/writer cuts up a text with a pair of scissors and reassembles it randomly - hoping to create something fresh or unusual. David Bowie used this technique when writing the lyrics for Aladdin Sane.
Welsh syllabic verse form. There are various versions including: the cyhydedd hir and the cyhydedd naw ban.
(pronounced kun-ghah-nedh) Intricate Welsh system of alliteration and rhyme. It is impossible to replicate in English but the following line from Hopkins's The Wreck of the Deutschland gives an approximation: 'The down-dugged ground-hugged grey'.
Welsh syllabic verse form.
Metrical form developed by the Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwilym which consists of rhyming couplets with seven syllables per line. There are four separate cywydd forms: awdl gywydd, cywydd deuair hirion, cywydd deuair fyrion and cywydd llosgyrnog. See Welsh forms.