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Poetry Terms

The term Poetry is defined as the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts. Technically speaking, it is a literary work in metrical form. If you are looking to improve your creative writing skills or simply wish to learn more about the wonderful craft of poetry, you have come to the right place. Our poetry glossary will help give you a solid introduction to the many types of poetry and poetic terms.

Glossary Of Poetry Terms


  • Abecedarian
    A type of acrostic poemin which the first letter of every word, strophe or verse follows the order of the alphabet.

  • Accent
    The prominence or emphasis given to a syllable or word. In the word poetry, the accent (or stress) falls on the first syllable.

  • Acrostic
    A poem in which the first letter of each line in the text spells out a significant word or a message.

  • Allegory
    Allegory is a narrative having a second meaning beneath the surface one.

  • Alexandrine
    A line of poetry that has 12 syllables and most-likely derives from a medieval romance about Alexander the Great that was written in 12-syllable lines.

  • Alliteration
    The repetition of the same or similar sounds at the beginning of words such as tongue twisters like "She sells seashells by the seashore".

  • Analogy
    Analogy is a likeness or similarity between things that are otherwise unlike.

  • Anapaest
    A metrical foot of three syllables, two short (or unstressed) followed by one long (or stressed). The anapaest is the opposite of the dactyl.

  • Antithesis
    A figure of speech in which words and phrases with opposite meanings are balanced against each other. An example of antithesis is “To err is human, to forgive, divine.” (Alexander Pope).

  • Apostrophe
    A figure of speech in which someone absent or dead or something nonhuman is addressed as if it were alive and present and could reply. The poem God's World by Edna St. Vincent Millay begins with an apostrophe: "O World, I cannot hold thee close enough!/Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!/Thy mists that roll and rise!"

  • Archetype
    Archetype is the original pattern from which copies are made.

  • Assonance
    The repetition or a pattern of similar sounds, especially vowel sounds as in the tongue twister "Moses supposes his toeses are roses."

  • Ballad
    The term originates from the Portuguese word balada meaning 'dancing-song'. In poetry, it normally refers toa narrative poem (often with a tragic ending).

  • Bard
    A Gaelic maker and signer of poems.

  • Blank verse
    Blank verse is in unrhymed iambic pentameter which is a type of meter in poetry that has five iambs to a line. Shakespeare wrote most of his plays in blank verse.

  • Cacophony
    Lewis Carroll makes use of cacophony in 'Jabberwocky' by using an unpleasant spoken sound created by clashing consonants.

  • Caesura
    A grammatical pause or break in a line of poetry (like a question mark), usually near the middle of the line.

  • Canzone
    An Italian lyric poem, with five or six stanzas and a shorter concluding stanza. The poets Petrarch and Dante Alighieri were masters of the canzone.

  • Carpe Diem
    A Latin expression that means “seize the day.” Carpe diem poems urge the reader or adressee to live for today and enjoy the pleasures of the moment. A famous carpe diem poem by Robert Herrick begins with “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may…”

  • Cento
    A patchwork poem composed of quotations from other authors.

  • Chanson de Geste
    An epic poem from the 11th to the 14th century, written in Old French, which details the exploits of a historical or legendary figure (especially Charlemagne).

  • Cinquain
    A five line poem, invented by Adelaide Crapsey, and based on Japanese forms such as haiku and tanka. The cinquain has a total of twenty-two syllables arranged in lines as follows: 2, 4, 6, 8 and 2

  • Classicism
    The principles and ideals of beauty, minimised by the use of emotional restraint, that are characteristic of Greek and Roman art and literature used by poets such as John Dryden and Alexander Pope.

  • Cliché
    A phrase or expression that is overused and unoriginal.

  • Conceit 
    An example of a conceit can be found in Shakespeare's sonnet "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" when an image or metaphor likens one thing to something else that is seemingly very different.

  • Consonance
    Consonance is the repetition, at close intervals, of the final consonant sounds of accented syllables or important words (as in lost and past or confess and dismiss).

  • Connotation
    connotation is What a word suggests beyond its basic definition. The words childlike and childish both mean 'characteristic of a child,' but childlike suggests meekness and innocence.

  • Couplet 
    A rhymed pair of lines, which are usually of the same length and form a complete thought. Shakespearean sonnets usually end in a couplet.

  • Dactyl 
    A metrical foot consisting of three syllables, in which the first is stressed and the last two are unstressed. The dactyl is the reverse of the anapaest.

  • Denotation
    Denotation is the basic definition or dictionary meaning of a word.

  • Dialect
    Dialect refers to pronunciation of a particular region of a Country or region.

  • Diction
    The choice and use of words and phrases in speech or writing.

  • Dimeter
    A line of poetry consisting of two metrical feet such as in The Robin by Thomas Hardy.

  • Doggerel
    Doggerels are a light verse which is humorous and comic by nature.

  • Elegy
    A poem that laments the death of a person, or one that is simply sad and thoughtful. An example of this type of poem is Thomas Gray's “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.”

  • Elision
    Elision refers to the leaving out of an unstressed syllable or vowel, usually in order to keep a regular meter in a line of poetry for example 'o'er' for 'over'.

  • Enjambment
    From the French word for "to straddle." Enjambment is the continuation of a sentence form one line or couplet into the next and derives from the French verb 'to straddle'. An example by Joyce Kilmer is 'I think that I shall never see/A poem as lovely as a tree'.

  • Envoy 
    The shorter final stanza of a poem, as in a ballade.

  • Epic
    A long, serious poem that tells the story of a heroic figure. Two of the most famous epic poems are the Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer, which tell about the Trojan War and the adventures of Odysseus on his voyage home after the war.

  • Epigram
    A very short, witty poem: “Sir, I admit your general rule,/That every poet is a fool,/But you yourself may serve to show it,/That every fool is not a poet.” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

  • Epithalamium (or Epithalamion)
    A poem in honor of a bride and bridegroom.

  • Epithet
    An epithetis a a descriptive expression, a word or phrase expressing some quality or attribute.

  • Euphony
    Euphony refers to pleasant spoken sound that is created by smooth consonants such as "ripple'.

  • Euphemism
    Euphemism is the use of a soft indirect expression instead of one that is harsh or unpleasantly direct. For example 'pass away' as opposed to 'die'

  • Falling Meter
    Trochaic and dactylic meters are called falling meters because they move from stressed to unstressed syllables.

  • Feminine rhyme
    A rhyme that occurs in a final unstressed syllable: pleasure/leisure, longing/yearning.

  • Figure of speech 
    A verbal expression in which words or sounds are arranged in a particular way to achieve a particular effect such as alliteration, antithesis, assonance, hyperbole, metaphor, onomatopoeia and simile.

  • Foot 
    Two or more syllables that together make up the smallest unit of rhythm in a poem. For example, an iamb is a foot that has two syllables, one unstressed followed by one stressed. An anapest has three syllables, two unstressed followed by one stressed.

  • Form
    Form is the generic term for the organising principle of a literary work. In poetry, form is described in terms elements like rhyme, meter, and stanzaic pattern.

  • Free Verse (also Vers Libre)
    Poetry composed of either rhymed or unrhymed lines that have no set meter.

  • Genre
    A category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter.

  • Haiku
    A Japanese poem composed of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables. Haiku often reflect on some aspect of nature

  • Heptameter
    A line of poetry that has seven metrical feet.

  • Heroic couplet
    A stanza composed of two rhymed lines in iambic pentameter.

  • Hexameter
    A line of poetry that has six metrical feet.

  • Hyperbole 
    Hyperbole (overstatement) is a type of figurative language that depends on intentional overstatement.

  • Iamb
    A metrical foot of two syllables, one short (or unstressed) and one long (or stressed). The lamb is the reverse of the trochee.

  • Iambic pentameter 
    Shakespeare's plays were written mostly in iambic pentameter, which is the most common type of meter in English poetry. It is a basic measure of English poetry, five iambic feet in each line.

  • Idiom
    Idiom refers to words, phrases, or patterns of expression. Idioms became standard elements in any language, differing from language to language and shifting with time. A current idiom is 'getting in a car' but 'on a plane'.

  • Idyll, or Idyl
    Either a short poem depicting a peaceful, idealized country scene, or a long poem that tells a story about heroic deeds or extraordinary events set in the distant past. Idylls of the King, by Alfred Lord Tennyson, is about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table

  • Imagery
    Imagery draws the reader into poetic experiences by touching on the images and senses which the reader already knows.

  • Irony
    Irony is a situation, or a use of language, involving some kind of discrepancy. An example of this is ''Water, water everywhere but ne'er a drop to drink'.

  • Jargon
    Jargon refers to words and phrases developed by a particular group to fit their own needs which other people understand.

  • Limerick
    A light, humorous poem of five usually anapestic lines with the rhyme scheme of aabba.

  • Litotes 
    A litote is a figure of speech in which affirmative is expressed by the negation of the opposite. "He's no dummy" is a good example.

  • Lyric
    A poem, such as a sonnet or an ode, that expresses the thoughts and feelings of the poet. A lyric poem may resemble a song in form or style.

  • Masculine Rhyme
    A rhyme that occurs in a final stressed syllable: cat/hat, desire/fire, observe/deserve.

  • Metaphor 
    A metaphor is a pattern equating two seemingly unlike objects. An examples of a metaphor is 'drowning in debt'.

  • Meter 
    Meters are regularized rhythms. An arrangement of language in which the accents occur at apparently equal intervals in time. Each repeated unit of meter is called a foot.

  • Meiosis
    Meiosis is a figure of speech that consists of saying less than one means, or of saying what one means with less force than the occasion warrants.

  • Metonymy 
    A figure of speech in which one word is substituted for another with which it is closely associated. Some significant aspect or detail of an experience is used to represent the whole experience.

  • Moritake 
    Maritime is figurative speech that depends on intentional overstatement or exaggeration.

  • Narrative
    A spoken or written account of connected events; telling of a story. Ballads, epics, and lays are different kinds of narrative poems.

  • Ode
    A lyric poem that is serious and thoughtful in tone and has a very precise, formal structure. A famous example of this type of poem is John Keats's “Ode on a Grecian Urn”.

  • Onomatopoeia
    A figure of speech in which words are used to imitate sounds. Examples of onomatopoeic words can be found in numerous Nursery Rhymes, for example, clippety-clop and cock-a-doodle-do.

  • Ottava Rima
    A type of poetry consisting of 10- or 11-syllable lines arranged in 8-line “octaves” with the rhyme scheme abababcc.

  • Paradox
    A paradox is a statement or situation containing apparently contradictory or incompatible elements.

  • Pastoral
    A poem that depicts rural life in a peaceful, idealized way.

  • Pentameter 
    A line of poetry that has five metrical feet.

  • Persona
    Persona refers to the narrator or speaker of the poem, not to be confused with the author.

  • Personification 
    Personification means giving human traits to nonhuman things. The thing personified is often an abstract concept (e.g. 'Lust').

  • Plosives
    A consonantal sound in the formation of which the passage of air is completely blocked, such as 'p', 'b', 't'. The blockage can be made in a variety of places (between the lips, between the tongue and teeth, between the tongue and palate).

  • Prose
    Piece of writing in its ordinary form (without stanzas, line breaks or metrical structure).

  • Quatrain
    A stanza or poem of four lines.

  • Refrain
    A phrase, line, or group of lines that is repeated throughout a poem, usually after every stanza.

  • Repetition
    Repetition of a sound, syllable, word, phrase, line, stanza, or metrical pattern.

  • Rhyme 
    The occurrence of the same or similar sounds at the end of two or more words.

  • Rhythm
    Rhythm is a strong, regular, repeated pattern of movement or sound. Another word for it is "flow". In a more formal sense, Rhythm is the systematic arrangement of sound principally according to duration and periodic stress.

  • Rising Meter
    Anapaestic and iambic meters are called rising meters because they move from an unstressed syllable to a stressed syllable.

  • Romanticism 
    A movement in the arts and literature that originated during the late 18th and early 19th centuries (a reaction to the classicism of the early 18th century) which emphasized personal inspiration, subjectivity, imagination and valued emotion and feeling over reason. The great English Romantic poets include Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats.

  • Scansion
    The analysis of a poem's meter. This is usually done by marking the stressed and unstressed syllables in each line and then, based on the pattern of the stresses, dividing the line into feet.

  • Simile
    A figure of speech in which two things are compared using words such as "like" or "as" to draw attention to the similarities between the two seemingly dissimilar things. 

  • Slang
    Slang refers to highly informal and sub-standard vocabulary which may exist for some time and then vanish. Some slang remains in usage long enough to become permanent, but slang never becomes a part of formal diction.

  • Sonnet
    A Formally structured poem of fourteen lines, usually in iambic pentameter, with a varied rhyme scheme. The two main types of sonnet are the Petrarchan (or Italian) and the Shakespearean.

  • Spondee
    A metrical foot of two syllables, both of which are long (or stressed).

  • Stanza 
    Two or more lines of poetry that together form one of the divisions of a poem. The stanzas of a poem are usually of the same length and follow the same pattern of meter and rhyme.

  • Stress 
    Stress refers to the accent or emphasis, either strong or weak, given to each syllable in a piece of writing, as determined by conventional pronunciation.

  • Synecdoche 
    Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole.

  • Syntax
    Syntax refers to word order and sentence structure. Normal word order in English sentences is firmly fixed in subject-verb-object sequence or subject-verb-complement. In poetry, word order may be shifted around to meet emphasis, to heighten the connection between two words, or to pick up on specific implications or traditions.

  • Tetrameter 
    A line of poetry that has four metrical feet.

  • Trochee 
    A metrical foot of two syllables, one long (or stressed) and one short (or unstressed).

  • Trope 
    Trope is the use of a word or phrase in a sense different from its ordinary meaning.

  • Understatement
    Understatement refers to the intentional downplaying of a situation's significance, often for ironic or humorous effect.

  • Verse 
    Either a definite number of metrical lines of poetry, or poetry in general (as opposed to prose).

  • Verse-Novel
    An extended narrative poem, for example, Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

  • Versification
    The system of rhyme and meter in poetry.

 


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