Poetry Terms | Terminology

Poetry terms and terminology. A dictionary of poetry terms and examples that are excellent for teachiing and learning various aspects of poetry. This comprehensive glossary of English poetry terminology or literary terms is a valuable resource for all poets and educators.

PoetrySoup makes a distinction between poetry terms and poetry forms. Forms of poetry adhere to a certain pattern, scheme, or meter, etc. However, our poetry terms are words or terminology that are closely associated with poetry while not a form of poetry. We have seperated poetry forms from these definitions.

See also: Forms of Poetry

Poetry Terminology by Letter

Some Random Poetry Terms


A writer of poems.

Vers de Société

Form of light verse which concerns itself with the comings and goings of polite society. Matthew Prior and Henry Austin Dobson both specialised in vers de société. How to Get On in Society by John Betjeman is another example - although this poem is also satirical in tone.


(or Poetise) To write or compose poetry.

Egotistical Sublime

Term coined by John Keats to describe (what he saw as) Wordsworth's self-aggrandising style.

Shakespeare's Line

Shakespeare's plays were essentially written in blank iambic pentameters - i.e. lines containing five two-syllable feet with the stress falling on the second syllable in each foot e.g:


Pen-name or nom de plume adopted by a poet/author.

Virelai Nouveau

Variation on the virelai featuring a double refrain at the start of the poem. These refrain lines are then used alternately at the end of  successive stanzas and then appear together again at the end of the final stanza but in reverse order. An example of a virelai nouveau is July by Dobson.


A dimeter is a metrical line of verse with two feet.

Metaphysical Poets

A term originally coined by Samuel Johnson in his Life of Cowley to criticise a group of poets including: John Donne, George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Henry Vaughan, Thomas Traherne, Andrew Marvell and Abraham Cowley etc. whose poetry he regarded as being over intellectualised. The term is somewhat misleading as it pigeon holes a number of poets who, in reality, had little in common.


One or more lines that make up the basic units of a poem - separated from each other by spacing.


GLYCONIC (from Glycon, a Greek lyric poet), a form of verse, best known in Catullus and Horace (usually in the catalectic variety ), with three feet—a spondee and two dactyls; or four—three trochees and a dactyl, or a dactyl and three chorees. Sir R. Jebb pointed out that the last form might be varied by placing the dactyl second or third, and according to its place this verse was called a First, Second or Third Glyconic.


Stichomythia is a technique in drama or poetry, in which alternating lines, or half-lines, are given to alternating characters, voices, or entities. The term originated in the literature of Ancient Greece, and is often applied to the dramas of Sophocles, though others like Shakespeare are known to use it. Etymologically it derives from the Greek stichos ("rows") + mythos ("speech"). Stichomythia is particularly well suited to sections of dramatic dialogue where two characters are in violent dispute. The rhythmic intensity of the alternating lines combined with quick, biting ripostes in the dialogue can be quite powerful.


Certain 14th-16th century German lyric poets who organised themselves in guilds and composed elaborate verse. They were influenced by the minnesingers.


(or Spondaic ) A two syllable foot that is comprised of two accented syllables-usually this is done in poetry by using one syllable words (like cat, dog) in a row

Fescennine Verses

FESCENNINE VERSES (Fescennina carmina), one of the earliest kinds of Italian poetry, subsequently developed into the Satura and the Roman comic drama. Originally sung at village harvest-home rejoicings, they made their way into the towns, and became the fashion at religious festivals and private gatherings—especially weddings, to which in later times they were practically restricted. They were usually in the Saturnian metre and took the form of a dialogue, consisting of an interchange of extemporaneous raillery. Those who took part in them wore masks made of the bark of trees. At first harmless and good-humoured, if somewhat coarse, these songs gradually outstripped the bounds of decency; malicious attacks were made upon both gods and men, and the matter became so serious that the law intervened and scurrilous personalities were forbidden by the Twelve Tables (Cicero, De re publica, iv. 10). Specimens of the Fescennines used at weddings are the Epithalamium of Manlius (Catullus, lxi. 122) and the four poems of Claudian in honour of the marriage of Honorius and Maria; the first, however, is distinguished by a licentiousness which is absent in the latter. Ausonius in his Cento nuptialis mentions the Fescennines of Annianus Faliscus, who lived in the time of Hadrian. Various derivations have been proposed for Fescennine. According to Festus, they were introduced from Fescennia in Etruria, but there is no reason to assume that any particular town was specially devoted to the use of such songs. As an alternative Festus suggests a connexion with fascinum, either because the Fescennina were regarded as a protection against evil influences (see Munro, Criticisms and Elucidations of Catullus, p. 76) or because fascinum (=phallus), as the symbol of fertility, would from early times have been naturally associated with harvest festivals. H. Nettleship, in an article on “The Earliest Italian Literature” (Journal of Philology, xi. 1882), in support of Munro’s view, translates the expression “verses used by charmers,” assuming a noun fescennus, connected with fas fari.