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Poetry Terms | Basic Poetry Terminology with Examples
Poetry terms and terminology. A comprehensive dictionary of basic poetry terms and examples that is excellent for teaching and learning various aspects of poetry. This comprehensive glossary of popular poetry 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
Popular Poetry Terms
A repetition of vowel sounds within syllables with changing consonants.
Hear the mellow wedding bells. — Edgar Allan Poe
Try to light the fire.
He gave a nod to the officer with the pocket.
Mankind can handle most hassles.
Tilting at windmills
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. . .")
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.
- Several good examples of sibilance come from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" For example: "And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain" (note that this example also contains assonance around the "ur" sound).
- Another example of consonance is the word 'sibilance' itself.
An element of meter in poetry. In quantitative verse, such as Greek or Latin, a dactyl is a long syllable followed by two short syllables. In accentual verse, such as English, it is a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables.
An example of dactylic meter is the first line of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem Evangeline, which is in dactylic hexameter:
This is the / forest prim- / eval. The / murmuring / pines and the / hemlocks,
A rhyme that occurs at the ends of lines.
Enjambment (also spelled "enjambement") is the breaking of a syntactic unit (a phrase, clause, or sentence) by the end of a line or between two verses. Its opposite is end-stopping, where each linguistic unit corresponds with a single line. The term is directly borrowed from the French enjambement, meaning "straddling" or "bestriding".
The following lines from Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale (c. 1611) are heavily enjambed:
I am not prone to weeping, as our sex
Commonly are; the want of which vain dew
Perchance shall dry your pities; but I have
That honourable grief lodged here which burns
Worse than tears drown.
A short stanza at the end of a poem used either to address an imagined or actual person or to comment on the preceding body of the poem.
The units used in poetry- Feet are composed of syllables arranged in some kind of pattern of accented and unaccented syllables. There are five most commonly used sets of feet are iambic (iamb), trochaic (trochee), anapestic (anapest), dactylic (dactyl), and spondaic (spondee).
A literary and poetic form, consisting of six metrical feet per line.
An example from Drayton:
- Nor any other wold like Cotswold ever sped,
- So rich and fair a vale in fortuning to wed.
A foot consisting of two syllables where the first is short or unstressed and the second is long or stressed e.g. as in 'beSIDE'.
A basic structural component of a poem. Lines can be written in free form, in syllabic form (e.g. haiku) or in metrical form. In the official classification, metrical lines can vary in length from the monometer (one foot) to the octameter (eight feet).
The measured arrangement of words in poetry, as by accentual rhythm, syllabic quantity, or the number of syllables in a line. The definitive pattern established for a verse (such as iambic pentameter).
A stanza comprising of eight lines; sometimes known as an octet or octastich.
A pentameter is a line of verse consisting of five metrical feet. Iambic pentameter is one of the most commonly used meters in English.
Formerly one who received a degree in grammar (i.e. poetry and rhetoric) at the English universities: a poet bearing that honorary title, a salaried officer in the royal household, appointed to compose annually an ode for the king's birthday and other suitable occasions.
Originally the poet appointed by the king or queen of England to write occasional verse to celebrate royal or national events. In return the poet laureate received a stipend. Ben Jonson was the first unofficial poet laureate although Edmund Spenser did receive a pension from Elizabeth I after flattering her in The Faerie Queene. Jonson was succeeded by Sir William D'Avenant but John Dryden became the first official poet laureate in 1668. Traditionally English poets laureate are appointed for life but Andrew Motion, the current laureate, is the first to be appointed for ten years. The requirement to write occasional verse is no longer enforced. See complete list of UK Poets Laureate.
A refrain (from the Old French refraindre "to repeat," likely from Vulgar Latin refringere) is the line or lines that are repeated in poetry, usually after every stanza.
For example, one version of the traditional ballad The Cruel Sister
includes a refrain mid-verse:
- There lived a lady by the North Sea shore,
- Lay the bent to the bonny broom
- Two daughters were the babes she bore.
- Fa la la la la la la la.
- As one grew bright as is the sun,
- Lay the bent to the bonny broom
- So coal black grew the other one.
- Fa la la la la la la la.
A rhyme scheme is the pattern of rhyming lines in a rhyming poem or in lyrics for music. It is usually referred to by using letters to indicate which lines rhyme.
For example "abab" indicates a four-line stanza in which the first and third lines rhyme, as do the second and fourth. Here is an example of this rhyme scheme from To Anthea, Who May Command Him Any Thing by Robert Herrick:
Bid me to weep, and I will weep,
While I have eyes to see;
And having none, yet I will keep
A heart to weep for thee.
The actual sound that results from a line of poetry. Metrical rhythm generally involves precise arrangements of stresses or syllables into repeated patterns called feet within a line.
A stanza comprising of seven lines.
A stanza comprising of six lines e.g. The Castaway by William Cowper. A sestet is also the last six lines of a sonnet - following the octave. See sonnet.
(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
bread box, shoe shine
One or more lines that make up the basic units of a poem - separated from each other by spacing.
The first stanza of a Pindaric ode. See ode.
A tetrameter is a line of four metrical feet.
"And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea" (Byron, "The Destruction of Sennacherib")
"Because I could not stop for Death" (Emily Dickinson)
"Peter, Peter, pumpkin-eater" (English nursery rhyme)
Picture your self in a boat on a river with [...] (The Beatles, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds")
A foot consisting of two syllables where the first one is long or stressed and the second is short or unstressed e.g. as in 'FALLing'.